10 Minutes With: Daniel Klein, The Perennial Plate

The Staff Canteen

Daniel Klein has worked and trained at many Michelin starred restaurants around the world, including the Thomas Keller's Per Se, Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck, Andoni Luis Aduriz’s Mugaritz, David Shea’s Applewood and Tom Collichio’s Craft, to name a few.

It is surprising then that the chef and activist was a film maker before he planned to enter the culinary career.
“Right out of University, I made a feature length documentary about failure of food aid and foreign aid in Africa and travelled across the continent,” explained Daniel.

Perennial Plate, Daniel Klein
Daniel Klein

“It was actually while I was editing that, that I started working at the Thomas Keller restaurant in New York and so I was kind of simultaneously editing and cooking in order to survive in New York.”

Daniel left film making to pursue cooking, until many years later when he returned to his birthplace of Minnesota with plans to open a restaurant.

“I ran into issues with liqueur licenses and stuff like that and I kind of reassessed and thought, why don’t I try doing this documentary series about eating local in a place that’s not easy, like California?” he said.

Soon Daniel travelled around his home state and made a film every week for a year - which would soon become the first season of his highly acclaimed online weekly documentary series The Perennial Plate.

“It did well and people were receptive to it, so it took on a life of its own and it’s been non-stop since then really,” said Daniel. Since 2009, Daniel has made more than 150 videos documenting the food industry with graphic artist and producer Mirra Fine whom he met in a cheese shop in Minnesota.

“She worked as a cheesemonger in a wonderful cheese shop,” said Daniel. “I came in while working on this project to earn a bit of money and started making charcuterie for the cheese shop. I came in one day a week to make pancetta and stuff like that.”
“We also got engaged in a cheese cave in Italy, so that was cool!” He added.

The now husband and wife team travel the world together documenting untold stories of food and the people who make it.

Mirra Fine, Perrenial Plate
Mirra Fine, The Perennial Plate

They aim to show just where our food comes from, how it gets to our table, and the unintentional consequences this can have in the food chain.
The documentary series is dedicated to socially responsible and adventurous eating, which Daniel thinks should be the responsibility of every industry.

“I think at this point in time when there is so much information and knowledge out there, that we really owe it to ourselves and the world to make our everyday decisions responsible decisions,” he said.
The Perennial Plate is also unique in how it captures the powerful human connection to the critical food issues we face today.

‘Tea for Two’ is an episode from their third season and follows a couple who live on an organic, fair trade tea farm in Sri Lanka. Daniel and Mirra had every intention of filming a farm story about organic tea but were taken aback by the relationship they witnessed between the farmer and his wife.

“The reason we love that one is because it doesn’t mention tea in it at all. You see this couple picking tea together but really it is a love story about how they met,” said Daniel. “It’s a story about food but really it’s a story about developing a human connection with somebody and seeing who they are and falling in love with them essentially.”

The Perennial Plate“You don’t learn necessarily about tea but you develop a new perspective by meeting these people on film and that’s kind of more powerful in a lot of ways than anything that they could’ve said about organic tea.”

The human connection in the food we eat is a recurring theme throughout The Perennial Plate and, according to Daniel, partly inspired the name of the documentary series.
“Not only is a perennial like a plant that comes back year after year, but it’s also like a common thread. So Perennial Plate is like food as a common thread throughout all of us,” Daniel explained. “It’s a nice way to be able to tell people stories as a watching point.”

As The Perennial Plate films people and their unique culinary practices around the world, the documentary can inspire new ways of thinking about food and remind chefs of the social responsibility they have when sourcing ingredients.

“Most chefs have relationships with their farmers and with their products and make efforts to purchase or humanely raise meat, and even some of them have their own farms,” said Daniel. “So I would love them to watch it because I think it’s important to tell those stories.”The Perennial Plate

“I think it’s also the many chefs that are not super famous and spending all this time considering each ingredient on their menu,” he added. “But remind other chefs and other home cooks and businesses that there is a human connection between who grows our food and how we eat it or cook it.”

The very first episode of The Perennial Plate, simply titled ‘Turkey’, saw Daniel keep a live turkey in his back garden before killing and preparing it for a Thanksgiving dinner. The aim was to show the uncensored reality of killing an animal for meat, and as a result Mirra became a vegetarian after filming the first episode.

“She became friends with it,” said Daniel, “and thought I was horrible for killing it and that’s the immediate impact, being confronted with the reality of meat.”

He added: “It’s kind of funny that we’re talking on Thanksgiving about it and now we’re having a vegetarian Thanksgiving, thanks to Perennial Plate!”

The Perennial Plate
Howth Fishing

Four seasons later and The Perennial Plate is a two-time James Beard Award winning online documentary series. Daniel said the accolade has helped more people to discover the series.
“Our role has always been to get people to watch each episode,” commented Daniel. “It’s one thing to make something, but it’s always been important to us that it gets out to an audience. So the James Beard award really helps with that.”

He added: “It feels good to be recognised but most importantly I think it just makes it possible for us to also do more work and we want to be able to continue to do that.”

By Lauren Phillips.

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Editor 6th January 2017

10 Minutes With: Daniel Klein, The Perennial Plate