A Culinary Adventure, From Gardens and Markets to Restaurants and Home Kitchens
Mar 21, 2012
12:31 PM
Local Flavor

Food for Thought

Food for Thought

Growing up in Ohio, I thought peppers came in only three flavors: red, green and hot. It wasn’t until I moved to Arizona after college where I worked for Native Seeds/SEARCH, an heirloom seed conservation organization, that I experienced the incredible diversity that peppers offer. They were short and burnt orange, long and pale yellow, deep green, bright red, small and round, wrinkled and smooth. They ranged in flavor from sweet to floral, from bitter to fruity, and, yes, mind-numbingly hot.

I moved here from Arizona in 1998 to pursue a master’s in conservation biology. To sun-seared eyes, Madison appeared to offer only a few flavors as well: cold, mild and, of course, red. Aside from beer and cheese (confession of a food blogger: I don’t like brats), Wisconsin seemed to have a culinary deficit.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that there was far more to Madison’s food scene than I thought. One walk around the Capitol Square on a Saturday morning and I was inundated with food fresh from Wisconsin farms. I was equally amazed that I could learn about Hmong culinary traditions alongside Wisconsin food culture.

Over the years, I grew familiar with organizations that work to support our local farmers, such as REAP and Family Farm Defenders. I saw that the pride in our culinary and agricultural heritage was far more than a passing fancy. More and more restaurants support the farm-to-table philosophy. The efforts of chefs in our community to feature local produce throughout their menus, and to be truly committed to working with local farmers to provide delicious and affordable dining in our city is commendable. Farmers donate produce, eggs, meat and dairy products to area food pantries, ensuring that low-income residents have access to local foods. And most Madison festivals—Taste of Madison, Madison Food and Wine Show, Food for Thought and the Brat Fest, to name a few—are centered around food.

Living in Madison has opened up a world of food and flavors that I feel grateful for and inspired by daily. Madison is a veritable garden of peppers, and the possibilities are endless.

Photo Illustration: Paddy and Otehlia Cassidy

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About This Blog

Writing has always provided an anchor for my passions, which focus deeply on food, dance, environmental conservation and culture. I grew up “helping” my dad cultivate a prolific garden that produced too many radishes and watching my mom make almost all of our food from scratch, including horehound candy. Meanwhile I took my first African dance class in high school, which ignited my continuing quest to travel to West Africa, via Europe and South America, to study dance.

Through my travels, I learned that we are all connected by food, and our basic need to eat. Since moving to Madison in 1998 to pursue degrees in conservation biology and dance, I have developed an appreciation for the richness of our local food community, and a great desire to share it with others. What started as a personal food blog, A World of Flavors, has since grown into a business teaching cooking classes and leading local and international food tours.

I look forward to sharing culinary adventures with you through my Madison Magazine blog Local Flavor and monthly Dining In recipe column.

  – Otehlia Cassidy
Follow Otehlia on Twitter @madisoneats

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