Podcast Episode 48

How the First Vegan Chef on “Hell’s Kitchen” Fuels Her Fiery Side

Josie Clemens | 43 Minutes | June 28, 2022

In today’s episode, we speak with Josie Clemens, who learned to “feel the mission” in her culinary career, which made all the difference for her when things got heated.

Josie Clemens is the first vegan chef on Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen: Young Guns Edition, and a new culinary director at Jackfruit Land.

Listen as Josie talks about what it’s like to work in Hell’s Kitchen with Gordon Ramsay, how she embraces her fiery side, and what she’s currently working on with Jackfruit Land.

Watch the podcast episode:

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Notes & Transcript


Kirk Bachmann: Hi everyone, my name is Kirk Bachmann, and welcome back to The Ultimate Dish. In today’s episode, we’re speaking with Chef Josie Clemens, the first vegan chef on Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen: Young Guns Edition.” And the new culinary director at Jack Fruit Land. Although Chef Josie hails from Michigan, her culinary adventures have taken her around the globe, where she’s introduced vegan menus at fine dining restaurants like Folia in Saudi Arabia. Josie specializes in culinary innovation, sustainability, and making nutritionally dense food tasty and more acceptable to the masses.

And there she is! Welcome, Chef. How are you?

Josie Clemens: Oh, thank you, Kirk. Hi. I am so good. How are you? Hello everyone!

Kirk Bachmann: Say hello to everyone in TV land, in podcast land. Yay! Perfect. You’ve done this before. I am so freaking excited to chat with you today. I’m a little nervous, so go easy on me, okay.

Josie Clemens: I’ll be very kind.

Kirk Bachmann: So I know that you reside in Cancun, but you’re with Mama right now in beautiful Michigan.

Josie Clemens: It is. It’s actually gorgeous here, which is not what I remember Michigan to be. It’s nice to be able to enjoy the weather. I’m here picking up my dog. My mom was so gracious to watch her while we were actually filming “Peeled,” the world’s first-ever televised vegan culinary competition.

Kirk Bachmann: Yeah. But Michigan’s nice in the summer. Kid Rock always says so.

Josie Clemens: Yeah. I forgot about boat weather.

Kirk Bachmann: Yeah! It’s boat weather. I grew up in Chicago by way of Germany. It’s the good old Midwest, right.

Josie Clemens: The best come from the Midwest, Baby!

Unlikely Inspiration

Kirk Bachmann: What was that like, growing up? We’re going to talk about so much food today. Growing up in the Midwest, where did the food thing come in? Was it in that kitchen behind you? Somebody else? Grandma?

Josie Clemens: I’m going to tell you a secret. Nobody really cooked. I was really fascinated when I would watch cooking shows like, “Chopped.” “Chopped” was actually my inspiration.

Kirk Bachmann: Isn’t that something?

Josie Clemens: Yeah. I saw the pantry, and I saw what people were coming up with. I thought, “Oh! If you can just throw anything together with these crazy ingredients, I think I can do that, too.”

Kirk Bachmann: So take me back. Did you all of a sudden say, “Hey, I’m cooking dinner tonight,” and you just dove into it? Was this grade school? High school?

Josie Clemens: This was grade school. My mom, [when I was] in middle school, I remember she took me to the grocery store. I was throwing a fit because I used to hate the grocery store. “Can we just get something different?”

She said, “Well, what do you have in mind?”

“I don’t know. Let’s get portobello mushrooms and beef and cheese.” And I did this stuffed mushroom for dinner.

Kirk Bachmann: And everyone loved it?

Josie Clemens: Everyone loved it.

Kirk Bachmann: See? There you go. So it’s all you! We’re not going to give credit to anyone else but you for this cooking passion of yours.

Josie Clemens: I don’t know where it came from. I wrote in second grade in my yearbook that I wanted to be a chef. I don’t know.

Kirk Bachmann: Oh, no way! Really? So it’s in the DNA. I love that.

So how does that all become a career?

Josie Clemens: That’s an excellent question. I think that it looks a lot like boldly going after what you want when you’re sweating and you’re scared. I’d say that when you feel fear in asking for opportunities, that’s when you know that you’re doing the right thing. That’s just how it started.

I asked a chef at this luxury banquet hall here in my home town for a job. He told me no. So then I went to the owners and I asked them for a job. They said, “Yes.” That’s how I started when I was 16.

Kirk Bachmann: So you had upward managerial agility even at 16. Good for you.

Josie Clemens: Yeah, it’s called manipulation tactics.

Veganism for Comfort and Purpose

Kirk Bachmann: Yeah. Let’s jump in. I think you know that I’m about 90 percent plant-based. That’s part of my fascination here. We’ll talk about “Hell’s Kitchen” and being the first vegan. Did Gordon Ramsay give you a hard time? “Where’s the protein?! Where’s the protein?!”

Josie Clemens: We can talk about all of it.

Kirk Bachmann: I love it. Where did that come from? You’re still a practicing vegan, plant-based cook. I just love the story, but where did it start?

Josie Clemens: You’re talking about when I first went vegan?

Kirk Bachmann: Yeah.

Josie Clemens: I got fired from my job a sous chef at Fiona’s Delicatessen in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Kirk Bachmann: Right up the road.

Josie Clemens: Right up the road.

Kirk Bachmann: Why’d you get fired?

Josie Clemens: It was mostly my attitude. It was mostly my attitude because I came from a really intense kitchen here in Michigan to Colorado where it’s a little bit more lax. It’s a little bit more chill. It’s a little bit more passionate and emotional. “We’re just here to have fun” kind of vibe. I wasn’t adapting. I wasn’t adapting.

Kirk Bachmann: You were serious. You were kind of serious.

Josie Clemens: I was very serious. I was very serious, and I was very young, and I was working with people who had been working there for a long time, and it just wasn’t gelling.

After I was let go, I thought, “Screw this.” I left the culinary industry and I went into sales and construction management so I could experiment with vegan food. I just started thinking about food differently. My partner and I at the time, we were already about 50 percent plant-based, just from being in Colorado and being around that kind of vibe. I started to just shift into a fully vegan diet and playing with it at home, experimenting.

Then I moved to California and starting doing some restaurant consulting for non-vegan restaurants, and installing vegan menus in their restaurants. It just became this thing that made me feel good about myself, especially after being really emotional and feeling frustrated with the industry after being let go.

Kirk Bachmann: Yeah. Are you evangelistic about it? Are you a preacher?

Josie Clemens: A little bit. It was almost like a religious thing. Veganism became a source of comfort for me, and a source of purpose.

Kirk Bachmann: I love that. I remember having cooked for a lot of years, for me there were two things. One, learning new techniques, learning again, how to make vegetables taste really, really good. But then I couldn’t believe how good I felt. I was trying. “There’s no way!” It made me feel really good, energy-wise. I felt like I was alert. Same for you?

Josie Clemens: Totally the same for me. I started to become aware of my own commentary on everything and how negative I was on a day-to-day basis. Not necessarily negative, but hyper-discerning. I had the opportunity to soften that discernment and start to take a look at how I was making decisions. It provided me with more space in between thoughts and actions, to make different decisions. That changed my life forever.

Kirk Bachmann: That is so well said. The other thing, Chef, that I thought was fascinating, was this whole new network of incredibly cool people that I started meeting. Chad Sarno and his brother, Derek with Wicked Healthy.

Josie Clemens: They are so cool.

Kirk Bachmann: I want to be that cool! So I’m going to associate myself. Chad’s been on the show. All they ever say is, “We’re not going to prescribe. We’re going to encourage you to eat more vegetables more often, and we’re going to make sure we help you make them taste really, really good.” It’s so simple.

Now, they’re emotional about animals and stuff as well, but from a chef’s perspective, it’s really about cooking really kick-ass food. I love that.

Maybe I lost some of that along the way, and then starting to cook vegetables kind of enlightened me again.

Imagine how I felt when I saw Gordon Ramsay bringing on a vegan chef. We’ll get to that in just one second.

I just want to make sure I get it all right. I don’t know how the seasons go. “Hell’s Kitchen” has been around for a long time. 20 seasons or so, or more? I can remember initially, it was rough to watch sometimes because we’re in this educational environment where we’re trying to nurture and promote the industry. You turn the TV on. But you couldn’t look away, because it was so fascinating to watch how people handled themselves when he put the pressure. The whole time I’m thinking to myself, “There’s a method to the madness.” Same with this chef back here, Marco Pierre White. I can’t imagine he was much different when Gordon was in his kitchen.

Josie Clemens: So intimidating. I’ve heard some stories.

Six Degrees of Hell’s Kitchen

Kirk Bachmann: We’ll talk about those stories later, unless you can share them.

There’s so much more to this, Josie. You’re on “Hell’s Kitchen.” The show’s been around for a long time. I don’t fully understand this, but this was the Young Guns. This was an intentional effort to bring in younger culinarians and give them a shot at the stove. Very, very intentional. There’s a rumor that you were inspired by a tweet, or you connected with Gordon somehow. How did a girl from Michigan who is finding herself and her voice and her confidence – BOOM! You’re on a pretty big stage. “Hell’s Kitchen.” It’s not a local cooking competition.

Josie Clemens: No, it’s not. It’s insane. To be honest, I can’t say. Some people say that it’s luck, and I’m sure there is some truth to that. But I really feel like you have to build luck, too. I think the way that I built it was just leaving the culinary industry and going to the work and the sales environment. I was determined to own my own restaurant and do things my way.

I also had to listen to the piece of me that was really upset that I wasn’t in the kitchen anymore. When it came time for me to leave my job, I just there was an overwhelming feeling that I needed to be back in the culinary industry. I left my job and then all of a sudden, things started opening up left and right. I started managing a vegan food truck. I started managing a vegan wholesale bakery in Los Angeles.

“Hell’s Kitchen” called me through Facebook Messenger. The casting director did. It’s all thanks to my friend’s, friend’s boyfriend that I cooked for one time at a party. Whenever I go to a party, I cook. I avoid people and I just go to the kitchen, and that’s how I connect with people. I just bring them food. I made a vegan picante, like a chicken picante. They loved it. And apparently this guy was Facebook friends with the casting director who was posting, “Hey, I’m looking for young chefs. Does anybody know or have any connections?” He commented just my name, and he tagged me. He said, “This girl cooked for us one time. She was really fiery. I think she’d be good on TV.”

Kirk Bachmann: Isn’t that something?

Josie Clemens: It was so nuts!

Restoring the Light with Plant-Based

Kirk Bachmann: It’s connections, and social media and technology have really helped with that. So you found a passion. Because of your discerning approach, you left. You were hurt. Did the plant-based cooking or approach heal you?

Josie Clemens: Totally. It made me feel like it was restoring the light. It gave me an infrastructure to know that anything that I’m doing is good, just because this action over here is good. Because what I’m consuming is good. It’s good for the planet. It’s good for me. Now I feel clearer on why I’m doing what I’m doing on a day-to-day basis. I don’t have to punish myself for my actions, even if I come off bossy or arrogant, or whatever people want to perceive me as. I knew why I was doing things, because I was just more healthy. More vibrant, more energetic. Totally.

Kirk Bachmann: I love that feedback. It’s so good for students who listen. Because you have setbacks in life. Often times, it’s up to you to figure it out, how to get past it. You could secretly call for the therapist, but ultimately you’ve got to overcome.

Josie Clemens: Yeah. You have to.

The Hell’s Kitchen Experience

Kirk Bachmann: I feel like this is kind of a therapy session, for me anyway. It’s been very insightful.

We may as well go with that theme of going deep. What did you find? I could ask you the easy, cliched questions like, “How was it to be on ‘Hell’s Kitchen.’” I want to know, what did you find out about yourself? All these people. You can’t leave. Four walls, because they’ve got secrets that they don’t want to share until it airs. What did you find out about yourself during that process?

Josie Clemens: So “Hell’s Kitchen” was really my first time back in what I consider to be a real kitchen since I was 18. I was 22 at the time, almost four years out of the kitchen. I found out that I’m meant to be in those kind of structures. That it’s not wrong to be assertive. It’s not aggressive. It’s just passion. It’s not something that you have to hide. I thought it was because I was let go from my job. No. It just means that that kitchen wasn’t for me. It’s not that there’s something wrong with me, it was that I was choosing the wrong place to be.

Having a battlefield like, “Hell’s Kitchen,” showed me this is where I can exercise my power. If you watch “Hell’s Kitchen,” I was very afraid to exercise that power. I was like, “Okay, let’s be benevolent. Let’s be compassionate.” I started to judge the passion that was happening in the kitchen because I had disconnected myself from that a little bit to go in a more benevolent, tangible way in my career. I just realized, afterwards, much later afterwards, a year afterwards, that it’s okay to be like that. It’s okay to be fiery. It’s okay to put yourself through the wringer because it’s for something that you believe in.

Kirk Bachmann: You stepped away for a bit. Was it like riding a bike?

Josie Clemens: It was like riding a bike. It felt natural.

Kirk Bachmann: Like you belonged.

Josie Clemens: I needed to be there.

The Presence of Gordon Ramsay

Kirk Bachmann: When you were in the heat of the competition, maybe there’s some stress, the clock is ticking, at the end of the day – this could be too many secrets that you can’t share – but is that presence of Chef Gordon Ramsay always looming? Is that a whole other layer of, “He’s right there. He’s right here.” Or is it kind of staged?

Josie Clemens: No. His presence – this man, this man is like his level of culinary mastery comes from him exercising his presence and his energy and his standards in every breath. So, when he’s coming around the corner, you can be so wired into your work, but you know. You know if he’s coming. You just know.

Kirk Bachmann: The chef is in the kitchen.

Josie Clemens: I don’t know how you couldn’t know.

Kirk Bachmann: I love that. I hoped that you would say that. I hoped that you would say that because whether you last the entire season and you win, or you’re there for a few weeks, you want to be able to take some learning with you. Maybe change you as a cook, as a person, how you perceive things. Plus, they may ask you to come back, right?

Josie Clemens: Totally. Oh my gosh. I hope, maybe. That would be pretty cool. I send him messages all the time just to let him know how his energy has impacted me and how I can think back to “Hell’s Kitchen” and recall what a master feels like, and what that looks like. And what a real leader looks like. I can just embody that because of him. That’s how potent his energy is.

Making a Statement in the Kitchen

Kirk Bachmann: That’s beyond motivation; that’s inspiration, which is hard to do. That’s good.

This whole idea of competition is hard enough as it is, whether it’s down the street in a gymnasium or in front of millions of viewers. Again, I’ll come back to that concept of being an evangelist. Did you feel like you had a greater cause because you were the first vegan competitor on the show and you needed to make? Or did you? Did you need to make a statement? Seems like the timing was perfect, because plant-based cooking is definitely not a trend. It is scaling beyond belief. Now you can go to the grocery store and find plant-based products in their own section. You don’t have to dig through other sections to find it, so it’s real. Did you feel like you needed to make a statement?

Josie Clemens: I did. I’m not sure if I made as bold of a statement as I could have. Adhering to not tasting anything, not tasting any animal products while I was on the show, I knew that needed to be. Not only because I feel like that needed to be shown, but just I couldn’t stomach it.

When “Hell’s Kitchen” first called and they asked me if I was okay with cooking meat to be on the show, I said, “No.” And I hung up. Then two weeks later I called them and was like, “You know what? Let’s do it.” Just because I felt like it was an opportunity for the masses to see it, but I didn’t want to cook meat. It was super-difficult for me.

You’re finally in an environment that you can exercise your fire and you can exercise your passion and you go to try to connect to the food to produce at a very high level, and you’re looking at your pan, and you’re searing flesh. You’re just, “Okay. We’re totally here for it. We’re going to be totally in tune with it,” even though it is actually hurting me.

Kirk Bachmann: And it’s not just in that space. I had a conversation with a colleague earlier this morning. We got on this crazy tangent of wedding cakes today. The wedding cakes of today and the wedding cakes that my master pastry chef father made 40 years ago are wildly different. Traditional wedding cake, three tiers, four tiers, whatever, with these crazy figurines of two people sitting on the top. Today, fresh flowers, fondant, beautiful, beautiful artistry. It’s completely different. It doesn’t mean that it’s wrong, it’s just different.

Josie Clemens: Even the naked cakes, too.

Kirk Bachmann: Exactly. I’ve seen cakes with Rock’Em Sock’Em robots on top. That’s probably more accurate, for a wedding.

Josie Clemens: People really expressing themselves.

Kirk Bachmann: You’ve got this mission in your mind, this conviction in your mind. How respectful was Chef Ramsay of how passionate you are, were, about plant-based cooking?

Josie Clemens: He was actually incredibly respectful. I felt like, throughout the show because I was kind of rusty. I was rusty in the sense of creating with meat just because I hadn’t cooked meat in so long, that I had the skill set and the passion. I felt like because I was plant-based, he gave me extra help. That’s, personally, how I felt.

Kirk Bachmann: But you had a presence, too, in the kitchen. You had a presence. Whether or not you were rusty, your words. Probably not the viewers’ words. But you had a presence in the kitchen, and that’s half the battle. Roland Henin, French master chef, known him for years, he told me once as I was burning a bunch of seafood sausage over in the corner. He pulled me aside and he said, “You’re always on stage when you’re in the kitchen. You’ve got to look good. You have to present well.”

Rachel Ray used to do this. As crazy as that sounds, do you remember Rachel Ray used to take a bowl over to the refrigerator and put everything she needed, all of her mise en place went into that bowl. Then she went to her workstation and began working, rather than Bobby Flaying it, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. That’s what Roland Henin said to me once. Always know that the eyes are on you, so you’ve got to be graceful as you move through the kitchen.

I give you credit. That’s 50 percent of the battle, just having a presence. The rest of it you can figure out. Did it come back quickly, the cooking skills?

Josie Clemens: It did. After week two of filming, I was like –

Kirk Bachmann: I’ve got this.

Josie Clemens:– I know what I’m doing.

The Winding Road to Saudi Arabia

Kirk Bachmann: I love that. It’s amazing. As I research your background and your history, Gordon Ramsay, that’s enough for many careers. Worked with Gordon Ramsay. We’re in the plant-based space here. You’ve done some work with Matthew Kenney who, arguably, is on the podium of plant-based cooking. A presence in this country for many, many years.

Josie Clemens: He’s the godfather.

Kirk Bachmann: Beautiful food. I remember when he was 12, running his first restaurant in Maine. He’s been around for a long time. Talk to me about how you met him, how you launched this incredible concept called Folia in Saudi Arabia, and what that meant to you.

A lot of our audience may not know Matthew Kenney so maybe a little background on your connection with him.

Josie Clemens: Matthew Kenney you probably know more of the history of Matthew Kenney. I only know his history before Plant Food + Wine because of some Google searches. I was looking at all the restaurants that he had in New York and his history before he was even vegan, or at least before he was fully vegan in the kitchen and as a head chef.

Matthew Kenney, as it turns out, we didn’t meet until the day after opening day. But as it turns out, we were neighbors. We lived a half-mile away from each other in Venice Beach. We live in Mar Vista. Well, I used to. My apartment’s not there anymore. But we lived a half-mile away from each other, and I used to go to his restaurants all the time not really knowing it was him, either. Double Zero, which is a vegan pizza place on Venice Boulevard. And Plant Food + Wine, which is on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice Beach proper. I had incredible experiences at both of those places, but I didn’t even realize it was Matthew Kenney cuisine. I was just kind of unplugged. I had my own catering company.

Kirk Bachmann: Doing your own thing.

Josie Clemens: I was a little bit out of touch.

So fast forward from living in Los Angeles to like a year later. I went to England right after “Hell’s Kitchen” aired. I got picked up by a vegan publicist, if you will. He launched my name over in England, so I did some pop-up dinners serving five and ten course menus of my signature dishes and different selections that had a lot of meaning to me. I met Loui Blake who is one of Matthew Kenney’s colleagues.

Now, Loui Blake is an angel investor who strictly opens only plant-based restaurants. Louie Blake and Matthew Kenney somehow in some way are business partners. I don’t know. Truthfully, I don’t know. I’m just blessed that I met the man. He’s such a cool guy. I met up with him and his girlfriend for lunch one day. I was talking about my plans. I was learning about him and what he does. Learned that he is just one of the most humble, conscious people I have ever met in my entire life. It was such a great meeting.

The next morning he messaged me on Instagram at 9 a.m. and he was like, “Hey, Matthew Kenney needs someone to go open his restaurant in Saudi Arabia. Do you want to go?”

I was like, “What?”

Kirk Bachmann: Is that crazy! My goodness. Wow.

Josie Clemens: It is crazy. Crazy stuff.

Kirk Bachmann: Was that a kind of pop-up concept as well?

Josie Clemens: The Matthew Kenney restaurant?

Kirk Bachmann: Yeah, in Saudi Arabia?

Josie Clemens: It was for Riyadh Season. Riyadh Season is a six-month celebration where they attract a lot of tourists by bringing huge artists, huge names in the entertainment and hospitality industry, period, to Riyadh to attract all of KSA, Europeans, Americans. They just want more people to come and see Saudi Arabia as a tourist area.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s phenomenal.

Josie Clemens: Totally is. So cool. They brought in Matthew Kenney. It was two months. They called this the culinary zone. There is twelve zones for the entire festival, and one zone is just for upscale restaurants. That section is only open for two months. That’s where Matthew Kenney Folia was open.

Kirk Bachmann: Was there more plant-based cooking over there than you anticipated, or specifically what Matthew was doing?

Josie Clemens: It’s specifically what Matthew was doing for the festival. That was the only plant-based restaurant. It was the first ever fine dining vegan restaurant. There are a couple cafes that serve breakfast and lunch that are fully vegan or plant-based in Riyadh, but that was the first real restaurant.

The Emotions of an Inconsistent Supply Chain

Kirk Bachmann: In keeping with our theme today, what was that experience like for you and what did you take away?

Josie Clemens: That experience was, I’d say, the equivalent of being on “Hell’s Kitchen” in terms of intensity.

Kirk Bachmann: Wow! Okay.

Josie Clemens: Just because there’s not a lot of infrastructure or supply chain in Saudi Arabia. It really was a period for me to not trust anyone else that was involved in the project, to just really run things and make sure that everything was perfect and take full control. Just watch it all come together.

It was so emotionally strenuous because you just never really knew until two days before opening if it was going to come together in time. Because you’ve got all your ingredients being shipped from all over the world, you don’t know when things are coming in. You have all of these lists of things that need to be prepared and you can’t prepare half of them because you don’t have vegan butter and you just don’t know when it’s coming in.

It’s a lot of emotional management. Ten percent work, 90 percent managing emotions and following up.

Kirk Bachmann: So how did your true DNA of being somewhat discerning, serious, help you there?

Josie Clemens: Oh.

Kirk Bachmann: You need it, right. No more whimsical approach. We’re going to get serious.

Josie Clemens: It got a deeper level of acceptance than I ever thought that I could have for those sides of my personality.

A Jackfruit Surprise

Kirk Bachmann: Unbelievable. Let’s just keep rolling with that. So another opportunity that came out of your trip – or your experience in Saudi Arabia – was Jackfruit, where you kind of reside today. Did I read this correctly? They reached out to you, offered you a position? Evidently your mission is very similar, to provide consumers, guests, with an amazing meat substitute product from jackfruit. Did I get that right?

Josie Clemens: Yeah, you did. Look at you. You really did your research.

Kirk Bachmann: I did the research. It’s fascinating! I truly believe people make their futures, too. They’re talking to the right people. They’re in the right position. They’re open to different experiences. Right place, right time.

This is your opportunity for a great plug. You’ll get all kinds of kudos and high fives. Tell us about this company and what you do and why it’s so important.

Josie Clemens: It was an opportunity to plug. Yes. Jackfruit.

Kirk Bachmann: Recorded.

Josie Clemens: Jackfruit Land is actually the coolest meat alternative product that I’ve ever experienced. They sent me their product when I was in Saudi Arabia. They paid to have it shipped from Florida to Saudi Arabia just so I could try it. They randomly reached out.

I didn’t have time to take it from my hotel room to the kitchen, because I just didn’t want one more thing on my plate. I actually took the dried jackfruit, and I just put it in my mouth and I let it re-hydrate in my mouth. For the first time, I realized that processed – when I say processed, it’s just dehydrated. It’s picked, it’s broken down, it dehydrated, it’s put in a bag. But this was the first time that I had processed jackfruit that actually tasted like something. Where you could taste the bitterness from the oils. You could taste something that actually resembled meat. Because I think as chefs, we’re most used to jackfruit that’s been stored in a brine, in a can. This totally changed my entire perspective. It blew my mind on what jackfruit can be. I had no idea. I had worked with jackfruit before, but it wasn’t like this.

As soon as I tried their product, I thought, “Wow! They really have something. I don’t know if they know what they have. Maybe they do know, but I really want to create something magical with this.” They were telling me how it was made and how it’s processed and how it’s handled. I thought, “Wow, this is so sustainable. If we could just dish this out everywhere. Not only is it sustainable, it’s healthy. It’s nutrient-dense. It has the most nutrients because of the way that it’s processed. It was like angels were singling. This is this answer.

Kirk Bachmann: I was just going to ask, but I think you [answered] it. If you had to pick one or two or three or four things that you want people to know about your role with Jackfruit Land, about this product, what would that be? In addition to what you just shared? What’s the emotional piece?

Josie Clemens: Well, the emotional piece, I think, it just that I think this connects all types of eaters. It connects the carnivores. It connects the vegans. It connects vegans that are in it for the health, vegans that are in it for the environment, vegans that are in it for whatever reason. It connects all of the eaters. There’s no compromising.

Kirk Bachmann: That wasn’t staged. What a beautiful answer! Tough question, beautiful answer.

Josie Clemens: Kirk, you’re so sweet.

Full Permission to Feel the Mission

Kirk Bachmann: I just love it. I loved it. I don’t try to stump people. I really truly believe that you come from a place where you want to make an impact. So I love that.

Keeping with that theme, I’m going to keep you smiling here. I want to go all the way back to the experience that you had that pushed you away from the industry – and keep in mind I’m always thinking about young, new culinarians coming into the industry, what inspires them, what motivates them, what pushes, what pulls. Now you’ve had these experiences all around the world. Coming back to that initial experience: how do you find peace in the industry? For you. For Josie.

Josie Clemens: Man. What a great question. For me, it’s staying focused on the vision. Every day, my entire schedule revolves around how clear I can get on the mission as quickly as possible from the time I wake up until I have to do work. As long as I can feel the vision and I can feel into that place of discernment rather than from whatever my emotions are telling me that day, from whatever I think I have to do. I know that that’s all B.S. and all I need to do is be clear on this vision. Anything that comes out of me or anything I decide to do and feel that is right while focused on this place, I give myself full permission and I don’t second guess it. That’s it.

Kirk Bachmann: I love it. Missions are incredibly important. My 11-year-old son will go into backdoor restaurants with me, and when he sees the chef or I introduce him to the chef, he’ll always ask, “Hey Chef, what’s your mission?” Which is absolutely crazy! He’s sincere about it. He wants to hear what is your mission. I’ve heard people talk about living the mission. I’ve heard people talk about being clear about the mission. But you just said, “Feel the mission.” I’ve never heard that before. That’s profound. What does that mean? How do you feel the mission every day. Because I’m totally going to steal it, by the way.

Josie Clemens: Please do. I think feeling it is the most potent way. Because I’ve tried the other ways: living it or acting from it. But feeling it means that you’re ignoring all logic at that point. Feeling it means that you’re placing yourself in the future with that vision and you’re feeling into what that vision is requiring of you, in terms of how you need to be, how you need to act, how you need to walk, how you need to look. What should be said. What shouldn’t be said. You get everything. You get everything that you need from feeling it.

And if you feel like you have to call a person that you haven’t talked to in three years to see what’s up, and just share about what your doing and genuinely see what they’re up to, that could be a conversation that leads you to the next clue. The next connection that’s going to lead you to the next connection, that’s going to lead you to the next connection, that gets you to a place that you never could have planned to be in. You never could have imagined it, even if you – I don’t know – did all of the hallucinogens in the world. You never could have imagined it.

Kirk Bachmann: When I listen to you speak, I feel like I’m reading a book. You’re writing your book, chapter after chapter after chapter. Many chapters to come. Would you rewrite any chapters at this point?

Josie Clemens: No.

Kirk Bachmann: So good!

Josie Clemens: I wish I had a better answer.

Kirk Bachmann: No. Another good [answer]. There can always be a second book, but you don’t have to rewrite the chapter. I try to get that across to my students all the time. It’s okay if you went down the wrong path, as long as you came back or you made a mistake, as long as you learned from that mistake. It’s okay. It’s okay. Don’t rewrite the chapter because it’s who you are. No, very well said.

I’m going to put you on the spot again. It’s a tough cliché question, to say, “What’s the future of plant-based cooking?” What do you want the future of plant-based cooking? What does Chef Josie want?

Josie’s Dream for a Plant-Based Future

Josie Clemens: What do I want? Wow!

Kirk Bachmann: How about that!

Josie Clemens: What I want is for hydroponics to just be the standard. If you can’t grow it, you don’t serve it.

Kirk Bachmann: No pressure.

Josie Clemens: I want everyone to be supporting the hospitality industry by growing something in their home. I want the new supply chain to be a route that has veggie pick-ups from different households. Maybe one person’s entire backyard is tomatoes. Maybe one person grows all zucchini. Maybe an entire neighborhood, the HOA. Your HOA is now designated. You have to grow these two crops in your home. That needs to be the new way. All of this, all of these food miles and all of these unsustainable ways of living. We’ve got massive soil issues.

Boulder is probably the most idealistic city in the U.S. that has conquered…you guys are the only ones conquering the issue. We need to not only duplicate everything that Boulder’s doing everywhere, but we need to start to really, with urgency, create new ways to acquire our produce.

Chef Josie’s Ultimate Dish

Kirk Bachmann: I was thinking to myself, I’m going to send this recording to the Boulder Chamber of Commerce because they need to hear that directly from you. But I agree that we do a lot of things right in this part of the country. It’s a lofty goal, but you have to start somewhere.

I don’t know where our time went so fast today, Chef, but it really blew by. I think we’re going to have to do a part deux. But before I let you go, I have to ask: the name of the podcast is The Ultimate Dish, so in your mind, what is the ultimate dish? Better be plant-based.

Josie Clemens: Of course! Of course, Kirk. The ultimate dish is a vegan Chicago-style deep dish. That is what I make for my family.

Kirk Bachmann: Oh my goodness!

Josie Clemens: Yeah, Mr. Chicago Man.

Kirk Bachmann: Oh my gosh, my kids would love that!

Josie Clemens: But I have to tell you what I do to it that makes it so special.

So are you familiar with Nasu Dengaku, which is basically a Japanese glazed eggplant?

Kirk Bachmann: Yeah!

Josie Clemens: I make that, and I layer that in so that it’s vegan cheese, and the slices of glazed eggplant, and then the tomato sauce. The tomato sauce has to have a pretty significant amount of red wine reduced into it, with a lot of fresh herbs. To me, that is the ultimate dish. I don’t care if you’re vegan or not vegan, or you’re a healthy vegan, or whatever.

Kirk Bachmann: I was just going to say, this does not have to be stereotyped as plant-based or vegan. That sounds absolutely perfect.

Josie Clemens: It brings everyone together.

Kirk Bachmann: And it’s a dish in front of everyone that you share. You’re all reaching for it.

Josie Clemens: Piece of pie.

Kirk Bachmann: Perfect. Piece of the pie. What a beautiful conversation! You’re a special person. I’m so glad that you joined us today. Will you keep us informed on your continued success?

Josie Clemens: Absolutely. Will you keep me in the loop on what’s going on at Escoffier? I want to help in any way possible with your students.

Kirk Bachmann: Oh, absolutely. Maybe we’ll do a webinar. Just a very organic and raw, no template, no script. Just 750 students on a call saying, “Hey!”

Josie Clemens: Let’s do it.

Kirk Bachmann: Let’s do it. I love it. Perfect.

Josie Clemens: Thank you so much for having me. It has been an absolute treasure.

Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely. Thanks so much.

And thank you for listening to the Ultimate Dish podcast, brought to you by Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Visit escoffier.edu/podcast, where you’ll find any materials mentioned during the podcast, including notes, links and other resources. You can also browse other episodes and subscribe.

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