How did you first hear about David and Cynthia’s partnership?
My mother was one of Chef Kinch’s first loyal customers at his restaurant in Saratoga, Sent Sovi, and I had eaten there a number of times. When I started looking into possible stories to make a “green” doc, I came upon Chef Kinch’s name again at Manresa. I had eaten there once and it was amazing, so I decided to send him an email. He remembered my mother and put two and two together, and agreed to meet. When he described his relationship with Cynthia, I knew that was the story I wanted to tell. The rest, as they say, is history.
What about their relationship intrigued you on both a personal level and on a filmmaking level?
What really intrigued me was the partnership. The amount of respect they had for each other and how they made it seem so easy. It’s nowhere near easy, but they seemed to be these two artists perfecting their crafts. I liked that. It seemed like a unique story to tell.
What are you looking for in a documentary story? What elements need to be there to merit its telling?
First and foremost, I need good characters. No matter what story you’re telling, or what issue you are investigating, if the audience can’t relate to a person in your film it won’t work. You need characters to connect the theme, issue, or message with the audience. Then I look for a visual way to tell the story— this is film, not a magazine article or an NPR piece, I need to tell this story with images. A beautiful farm in the Santa Cruz mountains and these amazing dishes coming out of Manresa’s kitchen were perfect vehicles.
You filmed this over the course of three years, from 2010-2013. How vigorous was the filming schedule?
The first year was very intense because my original plan was the shoot only for one year. That all changed when Cynthia bought the larger farm, and David decided to remodel the restaurant. Once that happened, I knew the story needed to include the move to the bigger farm, and its impact on the restaurant. That meant two more years of filming. I was at the farm once a month to capture the progress, and in the kitchen a couple times a month to see how the new product was being incorporated into the menu. Of course, I was also starting to edit at the same time, so I was spending a good 20-30 hours a week on this project for four years—even more when I was trying to complete a cut.
What was it like filming in Michelin-starred kitchen compared to other locations you’ve shot?
Shooting in the restaurant was extremely difficult because there was very little space to work. I initially tried to work with a crew of three—me on camera, a sound person, and a PA—but quickly realized that wasn’t going to work. I cut it down to two, and then one; just me on camera with wireless mics on David and the chef de cuisine. The other obstacle was getting clean sound due to the industrial fans in the kitchen. But despite all of that I had a blast. It was incredible to watch all these cooks working together and creating such sumptuous dishes. It also made me very hungry. Luckily, they let me nibble here and there!
The experience on the farm was totally different. There, I had tons of space, but I working on the side of a mountain, where weather can play havoc with your shooting. When I could, I brought a PA with me, just to stand behind so that I didn’t slip or fall off the mountainside. Both places, however, were very inspiring. I couldn’t help but feel energized at both venues because of the passion that everyone there had for their work.
Cooks who have worked together for so long move around each other seamlessly and at breakneck speed. How long did it take you to become a part of that unique ballet?
I’d say it took about three nights before the cooks trusted me. My job is to get out of the way, so I quickly found little corners that I knew I could duck into if someone was coming through with a hot plate or a pot. My first couple days of footage were terrible because I didn’t understand their process. I stopped filming after a short time and just started observing, getting the lay of the land. Then by the fourth or fifth night, it all seemed to come together and everyone got used to me being around and asking questions as they were working.
Why do you think a film like this is particularly pertinent in today’s food landscape?
David and Cynthia’s story is important because it’s about respect for people, food, and the environment. Biodynamics is no joke, and both of them believe 100% in the concept. It’s more than just farming practices, it’s about a purposeful connection to what you are doing. It forces you to be aware of everything around you, and makes you conscious of the consequences of your actions. In today’s world of give-it-to-me-now, it’s great to see two people so dedicated to such a thoughtful process. I think it’s also a call to return to a time when we, as a society, were far more aware of where our food came from. Too many people today can’t grow anything. They don’t have a relationship with the food they eat. David and Cynthia show us how important that relationship is. Of course, Chef Kinch is cooking at a level 99% of us will never achieve, but his respect for the ingredient is something we all can aspire to. His respect for Cynthia, and the farming process, is something we all should have.
How has spending so much time around the two of them influenced the way you approach food?
I am much more aware of where my food comes from, and how it was farmed. I’ve also come to understand how incredible basic vegetables can taste if you just cook them well. You don’t need fancy ingredients to make a fancy meal…just prepare what you have well.
Was there anyone that you met through the filming that really made an impression on you?
Beyond the deep impression that David and Cynthia left, it was really all the workers at both the farm and the restaurant. They all had this quiet passion about their work, a dedication that you very rarely see. I’ve seen it in professional athletes—a focus when they are working that’s palpable. As for specific people, Jessica (Largey) at the restaurant and Sarah at the farm went out of their way to explain things to me and include me in as much of their processes as they could. I really couldn’t have made the film without their cooperation.
What is the one takeaway you’d like viewers to leave with after seeing The Farmer & The Chef?
I want people to be inspired. I want people to want to find their passion in life. It doesn’t have to be farming or cooking, just anything that makes them love life the way David and Cynthia do. But, I also want people to realize that as a society, we need to reconnect with our environment. We need to rethink how everything we do impacts our ecosystem and if we don’t, we risk damaging it beyond repair.