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4 Culinary & Beverage Artists to Know in Columbus, Ohio in 2024: Lorenzo Tavani - Cook, Forage, Feast

I met Lorenzo when he worked with Chef Andrew Smith a couple years ago, I always thought the man had such incredible positive energy. A few months later, he invited me to one of his foraging classes which ended up being such an eye opener for me. Today, we are at his house, the backlyard to be precise where he has a fresh and coloful spread of dishes using ingredients he foraged himself.

Lorenzo, tell me about you and where did your love for cooking and foraging came from?


I am Lorenzo Tavani. I was born in Chicago but I only lived there for a couple years, we moved to Ohio when I was really young. I grew up in a lot of outdoor vacations. My mom had a couple raised beds in our backyard that we would kind of cook some, you know, zucchinis and tomatoes and the simple things out of. So I spent a lot of my childhood outside playing in the dirt, playing with sticks, cooking.  


I was was never really into school, I was kind of the troublemaker, class clown, you know, teachers loved me, but they, you know, they loved to hate me or they hated to love me because I would be able to kind of get the whole class off topic and joking around with me.


So through high school I was a band nerd, played music, always creative, loved the art classes and ended up going to culinary school in 2016. That's what brought me to Columbus. At culinary school, it was an apprenticeship program which I did for four years at Lindy's in German Village.


Throughout that time I started becoming more interested and passionate about health and nutrition and I wasn't, you know, super happy with the quality of food that I knew I wanted to have versus the stuff that was coming in the doors. All these thigns turn me into getting really interested in regenerative agriculture, where my food comes from, and why that all matters. Durinng COVID I spent a couple years at a small family farm where I was milking cows and feeding pigs and collecting eggs. And then ended up working at a slaughterhouse out there as well where I worked on the kill floor and with the butchers. So really got a deep dive into where my food comes from, getting to ask questions to farmers and people in that world.


The foraging love of came just after that. Ramps were the first thing that caught my attention during COVID or a little bit before. Then it kind of went into wild mushrooms and all the other plants that are out there and the different unique flavors that you can find in the woods and even your own backyard really started to catch my attention, these flavors are so short seasoned and they have such unique flavors and variation and different profiles and it's just an exciting whole new world of flavor that I got to unlock.


So that's kind of put me into what I'm doing now. Doing the foraging classes with food and bringing in small local farmers and food producers who are doing things with the health of humans and the planet. I think that's the whole kinda mission.  


Do you think there was a specific moment inn life where something clicked for you that made you interested in cooking?


Yeah, so in high school I worked at a steakhouse and I worked in the kitchen and as a buser upfront. The kitchen was kind of grungy and the guys were, you know, kind of rough around the edges and kind of felt like there was no rules back there. And it was real intense and lots of goofing around and I really liked that environment and I was kind of in between that and playing professional music and going to music school. But I didn't feel like there was a whole lot of potential in music.


So honestly I just decided to go to culinary school because I knew I needed to go to college. I wasn't like on the best path in high school, so I needed to kind of get out and just move myself into a path I wanted.


I honestly didn't get the snap and passion for cooking and, and food until the nutrition aspect came in. I had a couple knee surgeries and that put me into this like rabbit hole of physical health, getting really interested in how my whole body works together. And then that transitioned into how my food works with my body and now I have these cooking skills that can help me eat healthier, you know, like I understand how to work with the healthy stuff if I choose it.


Since the healthy eating became easier for me, then I just got way more passionate about cooking and then the wild food and farmed stuff. Just kind of where I'm at now. I got and I am really just excited about the nutrition, and the story behind all the ingredients.


When did foraging enter your life?  

2019, and part of it was, I had a buddy that I was working with at a restaurant who was always telling me about his grandma and her cookcook that mentioned acorn flour stuff in there and different wild plant recipes. I did nnot know you could eat acorns. And then I started getting more curious, I don't know if part of it was just me being more curious and my phone was picking up on me being more curious and I was just getting more in my timeline.


What is your hope for all those people that come into your classes and to learn about foraginng?


Yeah, I just hope that they leave the class wanting to be more intentional about their food choices.


What advice do you have for young people that want to explore foraging or cooking?


I think culinary school isn't a bad idea, I would recommend finding a well rated cheaper option than going to like a $50,000 school. But frankly I don't think it's necessary. I think that's up to you. I mean for me, I probably shouldn't have done it. I could have been better off just getting the job at a few restaurants to get the experience.


I didn't learn my mother sauces and I didn't learn my steaks in school. I learned that after I had to do it hands on and doing one day of cutting isn't enough for me. I think on the job training is the most helpful, especially for me. And I'd also say to choose restaurants that you're interested in that's doing food that's cool and exciting to you. If you get to the point at a restaurant where it feels boring and you're not excited about it, move to another one and go find something else that's exciting because you wanna keep learning.


Is there a plant or an ingredient that you either look forward to find to cook with?


Chanterelle mushrooms are right always around the corner. They're just a really awesome kind of dense but light flavored mushroom that grow in abundance. Also, mulberries. I've been picking a ton of lately and that’s what we're snacking on right now (Lorenzo prepared a spread of foraged foods for uss to eat during this interview, ssimply delicious)


Each season just holds a different array of ingredients to play around with. And it seems like each plant has so many different uses. Like a raspberry plant, you can eat the leaves in tea, you can eat the fresh berries, you can pickle the unripe berries, you can eat the young shoots, you can peel off the spines on the outside and literally eat the shoots which are crunchy.


For people like me, which are somewhat outdoorsy. How can we more mindful and aware of edible plants in our weekend walks?


I would say the best thing you can do is just choose a tree or a plant that you see often and whether you download an app that you can scan it with and then get a book and cross reference the internet. I always try and go with three references, two to three references before trying to confirm a plant is what it is. You really want to do your research, don't just rely on an app even when those are very useful tools. And revisit that plant throughout its whole life cycle and like keep an eye on that plant. On your walks, make it something that's a part of your routine.


What is the the most unforgettable dish you’ve had in your life?


Well we had a meal at Nobu in Miami and that was the best meal of my life. However, I think it was primarily because of the service. We were just in Oaxaca last year, and we had Caldo de Pollo and it was just like a really simple soup and they gave us tortillas with it and like cilantro and onion to put in it, so simple, so amazing, definetly unforgettable.  


What advice you have for home cooks like me?


I would say never, especially if you wanna make healthy cooking and consistent cooking a part of your life. Never cook enough for just the day. Always cook more than what you need. Bulk cook, right? Cook a big batch of chicken thighs and freeze some of the shredded chicken thighs. So it's already to be thawed and already to be used. It's not gonna take much more time to cook five pounds of chicken thighs than it will to cook one pound of chicken thighs. It’s all about being much more efficient with your time.


If you could cook or go foraging with anyone dead or alive, who would that person be? 


Bradley Leoni is a pretty cool dude. His new show is pretty cool. He is definitely a big inspiration of mine. You know, he's a forager, hunter, loves fermentation and a great cook.


What is the biggest change you have seen in the restaurant industry in the past few years?


I think people are nicer. I wasn't in the yelling chef environment, my chef was cool, but I know that I was at the tail end of that being the norm and things are just becoming nicer and the overall culture and environment I think is becoming healthier or trending towards healthier in restaurants.


What are you most excited for In 2024?


There's a big foraging food festival that happens in September called the Midwest Wild Harvest Festival. Sam Thayer and his family put it on, he is the country if not the world's most notable forager. He has written some really incredible edible plant books and hosts this foraging event. And I will get to cook with my idol chef in the foraging world, James Beard Award winner, Alan Bergo.  


Amazing, Lorenzo. Anything else you want to add?


I would just say to anybody reading this out there, think more about where your food comes from and try to be more intentional about your food choices, that can go a long way.


Lorenzo hosts a great and dynamic foraging class here in Columbus, I strongly recommend you to look up his schedule and jump into one. You will learn, taste and overall just have a great time.


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