EAT (RED): A conversation with Chef Elizabeth Falkner

When it comes to food, fitness, writing, culture—almost anything really—Chef Elizabeth Falkner is a force. She runs marathons, practices yoga, and trains in Jungshin sword fighting. She’s authored two books and is working on her third—a memoir that marries her career in food with her training in fine art. She’s a TV personality: the multiple award-winner has made a hobby of cooking competitions, joining as both a contestant and judge for shows on Bravo and the Food Network. Not to mention that she’s famous for her legendary desserts (but don’t assume she has a sweet tooth).

For over twenty years, the unapologetically unique Chef Falkner has been blazing her own trail in the restaurant business, and creating a path for others to follow. She's always been a champion for women in the food industry. From 2014 to 2015, she served as president for Women Chefs & Restaurateurs and in 2015, she programmed the Women Who Inspire Awards gala. Now, she’s bringing her tireless activism and generous spirit to raise awareness for (RED).

Every June, we partner with top chefs, restaurants, food brands and culinary businesses for our EAT (RED) SAVE LIVES events, turning the dollars you spend on dining into donations for the fight against HIV/AIDS. Since 2015, Chef Falkner has been an EAT (RED) Chef Ambassador. We recently spoke with her about what it means to be part of this movement.

(RED):

What inspired you to get involved with EAT (RED)? How did you find out about the campaign?

Chef Falkner:

I’ve been an AIDS activist since the early 90s when I was in San Francisco. When asked to cook for one of the EAT (RED) events a few of years ago after moving to New York, knowing that it is possible to eradicate this disease, of course I wanted to help.

(RED):

As a former president of Women Chefs & Restaurateurs, you’ve given so much of your time to promote the achievements of women. AIDS remains the leading cause of death for women worldwide. Did you know this before becoming involved with (RED)?

 

EF:

I did not know this fact when I became involved with (RED). I think many people still believe that HIV/AIDS only affects gay men, but that’s not the case. I want all people to be cured and free from this disease. We’ve made huge advances in medicine and learned a lot about HIV/AIDS, which means we can contain it. It is critically important we follow through with this and #86AIDS.

(RED):

You’re passionate about food beyond the context of a traditional restaurant. Tell us more about that.

EF:

I am. I think about food, ingredients and how we make decisions around food, and I express these ideas in different ways. I’m working on a few art installations which involve food and want to get them into galleries or museums. I recently did a performance art piece called "Croquembouche Samurai” at SoHo House in NYC. The piece means a lot to me. It’s about my love-hate relationship with being labeled a pastry chef, when the truth is that I do both pastry and savory. The piece is a blast for the audience and they get to eat the pastry after! It’s probably the best way I could imagine service the classic tower of cream puffs.

I also did an installation for Emmi Cheese from Switzerland, and made 13 fragrances based on the idea of taking people on a cheesemaking tour. I built a gallery room with a living wall of the grass and herbs that the Swiss brown cows graze on, recreated the reflections and sounds of the Kaltbach Caves and more and had people spritz the series of fragrances that really were like time travel through smells. Fun! And they got to sample the cheeses afterwards.

(RED):

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your involvement in EAT (RED) so far and how are you contributing to the EAT (RED) cause this summer?

EF:

I simply want to help bring more awareness to where we’re at with HIV/AIDS and how close we are to ending it. I’m planning to cook with my friend, Chef Hong Thaimee, at an event later this month.

(RED):

In your opinion, how does food play a role in bringing people together? How can food make a difference?

EF:

I honestly believe chefs have the privilege and ability to help make change for good in the world. We can help raise money by cooking for people and bringing people together to get things done. I’m always happy to help.

(RED):

How would you recommend others get involved in EAT (RED)?

EF:

So many great restaurants and chefs are doing menu items and events. All anyone needs to do is go EAT (RED).

 

Learn more about the EAT (RED) SAVE LIVES events taking place near you.

Liza Vadnai