Chef Claudia Krevat: We are One at the Table

Claudia is a chef, a writer, an ambassador with Hola Montana and a lover of all things culture, food and community. She was born and raised in Barranquilla, Colombia, a tropical city on the country’s northern Caribbean Coast, where she grew up primarily with her aunt and uncle. But not long after she turned 18, she moved to Miami, pursued a degree in sociology and International Relations, met Steve, her now husband of 42 years, and worked her way through nonprofit organizations, human resource positions and chef roles, trying to find her niche in helping people and having an impact.

When they moved to Montana in 1998, she had one main concern: What the heck is a Caribbean girl going to eat in the Rocky Mountains? Luckily, she found plantains, coconuts and lentils–the colorful varieties from Timeless Seeds grown organically right here in Montana.

Discovering lentils in Montana (which was a staple food in Colombia) gave Claudia the confidence to begin recreating recipes from her childhood using local and homegrown ingredients. Through her love of fusion foods, she has built a business as a private chef, leading cooking classes, hosting pop-up dinners, catering large events, and always looking for new and exciting ways to collaborate with local farmers, creators and chefs of different backgrounds.

The tagline of her business, Claudia’s Mesa, is “One World, One Table.” Her work and her energy center around celebrating life and strengthening relationships—relationship to the foods we eat, the stories we exchange, the cultures that shaped us and the ones we’re continually learning more about. And the relationship with each other, as we come to the table and break bread together.

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Episode Transcript

Andy Vantrease  00:17
Welcome to the Dandelion Effect Podcast, a space for organic conversation about the magic of living a connected life. Just like the natural world around us, we are all linked through an intricate web, a never-ending ripple that spans across the globe. Here we explore the ideas that our guests carry through the world, remember who and what inspired them along the way, and uncover the seeds that helped them blossom into their unique version of this human experience. This podcast is a production of the Feathered Pipe Foundation, whose mission is to help people find their direction through access to programs and experiences that support healing, education, community and empowerment.

Hi everyone, welcome back to another episode of the Dandelion Effect podcast. I’m your host, Andy Vantrease. And today I’m speaking with Chef Claudia Krevat.

Claudia is a chef, a writer, an ambassador with Hola Montana and a lover of all things culture, food and community. She was born and raised in Barranquilla, Colombia, a tropical city on the country’s northern Caribbean Coast, where she grew up primarily with her aunt and uncle. But not long after she turned 18, she moved to Miami, pursued a degree in sociology and International Relations, met Steve, her now husband of 42 years, and worked her way through nonprofit organizations, human resource positions and chef roles, trying to find her niche in helping people and having an impact.

When they moved to Bozeman, Montana in 1998, she had one main concern: What the heck is a Caribbean girl going to eat in the Rocky Mountains?? Luckily, she found plantains, coconuts and lentils–the colorful varieties from Timeless Seeds grown organically right here in Montana.

Now, if you’ve been listening to this podcast, you know that we interviewed Timeless Seeds co-founder Jim Barngrover a while back, and that the Feathered Pipe Ranch uses Timeless Seeds lentils, chickpeas and ancient grains in our cooking at the retreat center. This summer, our guests have tasted the difference in how delicious local and organic food can be.

Discovering lentils in Montana (which was a staple food in Colombia) gave Claudia the confidence to begin recreating recipes from her childhood using local and homegrown ingredients. Through her love of fusion foods, Claudia has built a business as a private chef, leading cooking classes, hosting pop-up dinners, catering large events, and always looking for new and exciting ways to collaborate with local farmers, creators and chefs of different backgrounds.

Claudia and I recorded this interview live in Bozeman, MT, where we both live, and I had the absolute pleasure of eating a homemade lunch at her house prior to this conversation. She made arepas, and a simplified posole with hominy and pork, and her famous green salsa, which she’s going to start selling locally soon.

Spending an afternoon with her, I quickly realized why the tagline of her business, Claudia’s Mesa, is “One World, One Table.” Her work and her energy center around celebrating life and strengthening relationships. Relationship to the foods we eat, the stories we exchange, the cultures that shaped us and the ones we’re continually learning more about. And the relationship with each other, as we come to the table together and break bread.

Without further adieu, please enjoy this conversation and help me welcome my friend chef Claudia.

Andy Vantrease  3:58
So you were born in Baranquilla, Colombia, which is on the Caribbean coast in 1955. And I want to ask you about your origin through the lens of food. What do you remember about being a young girl in Colombia? What smells, what was the market like and what were the staple foods that you ate all the time?

Claudia Krevat  04:08
As a child, I didn’t really know that a lot of the food that we eat in Colombia’s Caribbean coast is influenced by Nigeria, Yoruba. If you look at a globe, and you look where Nigeria is, and then you see the path that the slave ships would take, coming from there versus in the Pacific coast of Colombia, the ships will be coming from the other side of Africa. So, you have all the different people in Colombia, ones from one region look totally different from others. The colors of their skin are different, the music and the food, because it comes from a different part of Africa. I didn’t know any of that; I just loved to eat it.

So a lot of the food that I ate also had to do with the crops and the fruits that we grew. There’s a story about the city of Baranquilla, which “Baranqa” means a gorge and “illa” is the diminutive for something. So, “aranquilla” is a little gorge, and it was discovered by the cows. The people that were looking for their cows followed them because there was a drought and the cows could not get anything to drink. And they settled in this “baranqa,” in this gorge, which is right at the mouth of the Magdalena River. The Magdalena River, besides having such a beautiful name, comes all the way from the Andes, so it goes up the mountains and then empties out in on the ocean.

Andy Vantrease
Wow. 

Claudia Krevat 5:53
So I grew up with my Aunt Alicia (“Tia Alicia” was my dad’s sister) because my mom and my dad were in constant bickering, and they separated. They were the black sheep of the family. They came from a very large family: My mom was the seventh, and my dad was the sixth, and each set of grandparents had their history. On my dad’s side, my grandmother was Sephardic, and in the persecution of the Jews in Spain, they fled through the island of Curacao, where my dad ended up working. Curacao has the largest synagogue in the entire America. So, on my dad’s side, my grandmother came from that end and my grandfather was Spanish from Catalonia, bordering with France. So, my last name is Gallo Frey, which sounds very French. And then on my mother’s side, my grandfather came from beautiful Tuscan little town named Luca, which is the capital of the olive oil. And then on my grandmother’s side, her family came from Cuba. She was born in Colombia, but they were Cuban. But Cuba was very Spanish. Cuba was the last Latin American country to become independent of Spain. And it was close to the 1900s. Colombia was 1881, United States was 1776.

I grew up with my Tia Alicia, and I lived in this amazing house that was the color of a ginger cookie. We used to call it the gingerbread colored house. And my bedroom was on the second floor. So all the houses were like this colonial style. They had like French shutter doors, you know, we didn’t have windows, it was all white shutters, like very colonial looking that you open up. No AC, we had ceiling fans, and I would be woken up every morning before sunrise by our neighbor’s black rooster. Open the window and you see all of my patio with fruit trees. And there were mango trees, lemon trees, grapefruit, huge papaya tree with these big papayas hanging. I used to say it was like a big tall lady with long earrings, because that’s what they looked like. And then there was the guava trees right in the middle and they were the ones you could smell the most, the guava.

We had coconut trees as well, but the coconut trees made into like a yellow state, you know, you have to pull them out like that, then you have the brown nut. There were no appliances to help us grate coconut. So you had to take that coconut, you had to go with a machete and go outside to the patio by the tile. Mama Esco cut it with a machete. First, she would open a couple of holes—coconuts have like three little holes—and then she would take the coconut, put it over a glass so all the coconut water would come out, which she would then use for the coconut rice. So then she’d open the coconut, then bring it back and she would grade it by hand, no food processor. She taught me that, and I remember just messing up my little fingers from doing that.

Breakfast was very simple for us women. For us women, it was cafe con leche, coffee with milk. Cafe con leche and papaya, always a fresh fruit, something from that basket that was in the kitchen. And then a piece of queso fresco. That was it. But the guys, they would have scrambled eggs with like five eggs.

Andy Vantrease  09:36
Just getting more protein?

Claudia Krevat  09:40
That’s just how it was! It was a lot of protein. Colombia is a lot like Montana. We didn’t do bacon, but they would have Butifarras, which are like a little sausage. I would eat eggs like on the weekend; I just wasn’t interested you know. I rather have bread with guava jam on it, and fresh fruit. So lunch, there was always rice, and sometimes we had yucca and plantain with the rice. That’s why you had to go take a siesta. A ton of meat, beans—not black beans, that’s more Cuban and Mexican—but we had a lot of white beans and a lot of kidney beans. A lot of plantains, a lot of yucca, a lot of soups. Even though it was so hot there, we had some soups. We had shrimp soup, fish soup, all sorts of seafood. And every Friday for the 18 years I lived there, we never ate meat, because it was a day to observe Jesus and the crucification (because he died on a Friday). So as good Latin Catholics, all this myths around that if you eat meat, you’re eating Jesus’s flesh.

Andy Vantrease
Only on Fridays?

Claudia Krevat
Only on Fridays. So, there was always avocado salad with tomatoes. Delicious! Sometimes you put a hard-boiled egg in it. And lentils! I never saw lentil other like we have here in Montana. I never saw anything there. But the green or brown lentils, which are the flat ones and the most common lentils.

Andy Vantrease  11:19
It’s so interesting that the lentil was one of the foods that you remember from childhood because that obviously ties into how you’ve carried out your work as a chef and community theater here in Montana. We’ll get into that in a little bit.

You know, one of the things that I asked people is “Who influenced you?” And I know that Mama Esco was a big influence on you. And you also had an English teacher a little bit later in life that was a big influence. Two really powerful and wise women that seem to give you wisdom, give you attention, give you love and care and in different ways and introduce you to things. So tell me a little bit about those two women.

Claudia Krevat  12:03
So Mama Esco, Maria Escorcia, was the “cocinera,” the cook in the house. She’s this black lady, you know, as old as history. I don’t know, she looked ancient to me. And the color of her skin, I remember from looking at eggplants, was like eggplant; it was shiny black with like a purplish tint in it. She had white curly hair and it was always wild. And she was extremely skinny, and the white uniforms never fit her—they were too big—so she would take her red dust cloth and she would wrap it around. So, at six o’clock in the morning or something, you would see her sweeping the little tile area, smoking her cigarette, and she had this transistor radio that was as old as she was. And then she would use like Reynolds wrap. Because the antenna was broken and she would create an antennae to create better reception.

Andy Vantrease  13:09
And what type of music was she playing?

Claudia Krevat  13:11
Oh, she was playing Cumbia. Cumbia is Colombian Afro music, which is pretty much all drums. And then it has a flute. So it’s a combination of music of culture: the flute is the native the indigenous; the drums are the African influence, and pollera is the Spanish skirt, like the flamenco dancers. So it’s a blend.

You know, Mama Esco came to my life at a very important time for my formation. She came at a time where I was questioning a lot about my parents’ separation, more than I had before. And my aunt had five sons, so not that she didn’t love me, but she was focusing on those five boys because some of them had a lot of issues going on.

Andy Vantrease
Yeah, five boys, my gosh, you’re busy.

Claudia Krevat
And then she was also involved in all these benefits. You know, she was always helping the poor people with some organizations, working in little hospitals in the pueblos. So Mama Esco, you know, I just tended to go to the kitchen. Because I liked food and I guess, you know, I was finding comfort in eating, right? I never saw it as an eating disorder or anything like that. I just like being there. I like the atmosphere there. I like how she allowed me to explore and how she told me stories.

One of the things that she taught me was that to cook you must feel, and that you must use your senses, and that the rice speaks to me. The rice is telling me when I must throw the water in because we sauté our rice, like when we make pila, we don’t put the water and then the rice. You take the Caldera, which is that pot that I served you the rice with, and we put the oil and a clove of garlic, and we let it get sizzling hot, then we throw in the rice and we stir it and we let it cook. Then it gets to a point where it’s going, “Waterrrr!” So she taught me like, I could be somewhere in the house and I’m keeping an eye on what the food on the stove is telling me to do. So she taught me that, and how to use the smell, right? When is the coconut really getting to that point where you need to lower it down because it’s caramelizing and it smells sweeter than it did at the beginning.

And then she talks about love. That was like the last sense that you got to put in and good thoughts. And then you got to have music. And it’s just got to be a wonderful experience. So that’s how I cook. That’s how I learned, and it made me happy so I continue. And then she had analogies that she talked about because she knew my mom or my dad when they had better days. She compared them to oil and vinegar. She didn’t say that oil was heavier than vinegar. You know, she didn’t tell me any of that. What she said is that they separate and then you add a little bit of mustard or you add something and you shake it up and she goes, “And that’s love. When there’s love and you shake it up, it becomes one.”

Andy Vantrease  16:34
Gosh, I’m just like picturing you as a young girl in this kitchen with Mama Esco and like those types of stories that are passed down. I mean, I really think that’s how we learn, so much more than when you’re trying to learn lessons. It’s like those stories and those analogies and even just watching people do a certain thing and picking up on this and that along the way. Yeah, it’s amazing what you even just learn by osmosis by spending time with her.

Claudia Krevat  17:04
Sometimes people ask me, “Can you come and teach a class for kids?” Like, last summer I taught one a Bodhi Ranch. She has a kids camp. And through Red Ants Pants, I met this wonderful mentor and she asked me to come to Whitehall and to teach about lentils. I asked both of them, “But you’ve got to let me show them how to make a salad dressing.” Then I do the Mama Esco stuff, and I put KC and the Sunshine Band, the song “Shake, shake, shake your booty” on. They’re dancing and then they taste it. They taste the oil. They taste the vinegar. They taste the jam. They taste the Dijon. And then they taste it all together. And then they dance. So yeah, that that really works.

Andy Vantrease  17:50
Yeah. And then a little bit later in your life, you had this English teacher…

Claudia Krevat  17:56
She came to my life 1971 and 1972, then she left. And those two years were important because I was discovering my views on life and polarities, differences in classes and racial differences. And two of my sisters moved to the United States and my dad started sending me to Judy, which was the oldest and Judy is eight years older than me. She would send me to West Virginia where she lived and actually this was during Watergate, talking about they want to impeach Nixon. I don’t understand a lot of what was going on but they’re protesting and they’re being very active. I’m like, “I want to do that.” But what happens to me is I have this desire to become a hippie. I appreciate the freeness of their way of dressing, how they don’t have hang ups if you’re wearing a bra or not. If your skin is showing or not. That’s just how I felt.

And I see that they’re speaking for the underdog. They’re protesting the war. Why are we going to go on fight there and all of these things, and I feel like I want to be like them. So, then I go back home and you know, you get your new teachers for the year and one of these is this woman, Carla Garland. She was a graduate of UC Berkeley, an English and Philosophy major. She just made some really good contrast about social classes. I never forget the story called The Necklace by Russian writer, Anton Chekhov, which is very much about class. She made us think; she really had us dig in. She says, “The writers are expressing something because it’s important for them and it’s important for what was happening. And it’s up to us, the reader, to try to find the whys and to see what that does inside of us.”

So, I took that very seriously. You know what was going on? I did the homework for my friends because I was so good. And, you know, I’ll never forget when she introduced me to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which then became that movie, Apocalypse Now. You know, it was based on that, it wasn’t written at the same time, but you know, the director of the movie kind of changed it. And she has analyzed those stories—Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, you know, in California, the canneries, with all the Asian people. These books were just moving me.

Andy Vantrease
She lit a fire.

Claudia Krevat
She lit a fire. Mama Esco lit the storytelling fire. And today, while I was looking for this book, I found my first poem. It has a lot of beauty in it. I could see Mama Esco because it was like the oil and vinegar, like the analogies, they were very innocent, right.

Andy Vantrease  20:55
You know, when you met this teacher, and started to read stories and read more about class systems and the structures that make up our social systems and our politics and all of that, how that affects us on a day to day basis and the people that we’re around, were you then kind of looking at your life and looking at people like Mama Esco, whose family has been in your family for generations. But like you said, came over originally on a slave ship. Then all of these cultures mixing together to create the Colombia that you knew that you were born into. How did that affect your view of your home country?

Claudia Krevat  21:36
When I came to the States, and I saw people protesting, and I saw how involved they were towards the rights of other people. You know, I remember when JFK was killed. I remember exactly where I was, they took us out of school. I remember all of these things, but I saw in the United States, a group of people fighting for what they believed, and I didn’t see that in Colombia. I saw us being complacent. Maybe it wasn’t, but I was in a bilingual school, that you should see how much money my parents—my dad—paid for me to go to that school. And I would go to these Country Club dances with, you know, sequin dresses and all that. I didn’t want any of that.

So, to me, I always find that I was very close to the kitchen. I don’t know what I felt besides being cared for and loved. Maybe I felt like I wanted to support them, I don’t know. So, I wanted to leave because my way of thinking did not belong there. I told Professor Moré, who was this wonderful man who taught journalism and psychology and philosophy. (This is high school.) I went to him and I said, “Professor Moré, I love to write, and I want to win and Esso prize for Columbia.” An Esso prize is like, what do you win in the states—an Emmy Award. And then he goes, “To write, you don’t need to study. To write, you have to feel. You can always work on your skill. But study something that involves people, which is what moves you, and then write about it.”

I had a plan that was to study communications. Then when I went to Miami, I learned that communications encompasses all these things. It’s not solely just journalism. So I ended up studying psychology for two years, because I thought of my parents issues and how it could mess me up. Then I lived in this apartment that was close to the Red Zone, and one day a woman ran into the little lobby of this motel that got converted into studios for students, and she had just been raped. Here I am the psychology major, and I’m having a fit. I don’t know how to help her. So, I decided to change majors, and I changed to sociology. When I got into the Department of Sociology, and I met these teachers, they were all men. I had had two mentors as women, and this one tells me, “Yes, I see why you want to change from psychology, but it’s Society who fucks us up. The study of sociology is going to help you and you can write about it.”

All of a sudden, everything that this little professor Moray had been telling me right—”study something that moves you and if you’re so moved by the social classes, and all of that, study that and then write about it.” But Barry Levine was the counselor in sociology, and he used the “F” word and I’m like, “Dude, this is old school.”

Andy Vantrease  25:02
You’re like, “That’s my guy.”

Claudia Krevat
I’m staying here. Look how they talk!

Andy Vantrease
You go to college in Miami, you’re there with your sister. Of course, a lot of life experience happens, and you still are on this trajectory of fighting for a cause. Fighting for, you know, wanting to change the world. And there’s a disillusionment that starts to happen. Tell me a little bit about that, because that eventually leads you back to food.

Claudia Krevat  25:33
So I was asked pretty much to go get a Master’s, which they didn’t have the Masters at Florida International University, I wanted to get a Master’s in Sociology, focusing on Latin America and the Caribbean, but Sociology didn’t have a Master’s. After I ended up with two majors, and like three certificates of ethnicity, Caribbean Studies, minority studies, they said, “Okay, time to leave FIU and move somewhere else, or time to go get a job.”

They had job fairs, so without mentioning the agency—it’s an agency throughout the country, which helps people—I applied for that job, and I got it. My title was a program monitor, and what a program monitor does is that it goes to different service agencies. There are service agencies for the elderly, for youth, etc. as you can imagine. So, I went to one of these sectors, and I was supposed to look at what the grants that were written were applied to. In my case, it was meals, for example, because I ended up with a nutrition program—so appropriate, right? I would have to go to these places, and I would have to see, “Okay, it says there that they applied for funds to serve 150 meals, and the 150 meals would consist of you know, they had dieticians, and made X amount of protein, X amount of this, X amount of that.” Then I go to some of these places, and their numbers and things were like, totally off.  Actually I was used—but in a positive way, because they knew I was so righteous—by an agency who kind of put the plug on me to say it like it is. And of course, I have to say it like it is! I got in trouble for saying it like it is. One of the project directors from one of the programs invited me to lunch, to a very prestigious restaurant in Miami, in the Omni Hotel, and then he says, “Claudia, apparently you don’t know where the cookie crumbles.” And I’m like, “What does that mean?”

Andy Vantrease  27:39
Like, stop telling the truth about what’s going on.

Claudia Krevat  27:43
Yes, and this guy drove a jaguar. The thing is, I was so naive that I would ask these questions, like after the report, “So where is the money going?!” And I just couldn’t live like that. I just could not be at a place where I couldn’t say it like it is. So, I had married my wonderful husband of almost 42 years, and he said, “You know what? Every day you come home, all we do is talk about how unhappy you are and every day, it’s the same story. Why don’t you just quit and look for a job that you really like?”

So, I ended up a couple of months later with a really good tan on me because I went to the pool a lot, but I ended up getting a job at a wonderful hotel called the Doral Resort of Florida. And I was hired as a training supervisor. I had no idea what a training supervisor’s job was, but I knew how to write. They had me writing job descriptions, creating training manuals, and I got good at it. I did new employee orientation, with a movie projector and everything where I talked about the company. Then we went on a tour and we ended up having lunch at the employee’s cafeteria. And the employee’s cafeteria was a really good benefit for the employees because some of these employees, you know, they made the minimum wage, could have lunch, and then some of them would have dinner before going home. Because maybe they didn’t have a lot to eat at the house. But I noticed that there was like an increase of weight. The managers that I saw gained weight. A lot of stress. People that I knew drank a lot, you know, a lot of alcohol, a lot of drugs, etc.

So, I was already moving up the ladder in my career. I promoted myself—I would go to the general manager, Mr. Boning. “How about if I become the training manager? How about if I become the training director? What if?” After 10 years there, I ended up in corporate training and development and quality assurance. I just couldn’t figure out what the title was. I brought 10 different professionals from the health industry that I knew or I had been introduced to, and we had one in-house in our beach hotel, German lady. She was yoga and wellness. We had a biofeedback person coming in. We had stress management. We had a nutritionist, Carol Hopkins, from the Carol Hopkins Wellness Center. She was a wonderful woman about my age, and Carol, I took her to our food and beverage director, Bill Moor. And I said, “Bill, I am so concerned about this management and the employees and the weight. So, let’s go to the employee’s cafeteria.” We looked at the menus and we changed, for example, tuna salad was like a favorite but it’s loaded with mayonnaise. So we reduced the mayonnaise, added crunchy, you know, celery, whatever we could add in there to bring some vegetables.

Then Carol and I shared a dream: Wouldn’t it be great if there would be a health food drive thru, and you and I could design the menu! Oh, man, that would be so good. So, then I become pregnant, and I have Gabby. I could not get pregnant and Gabby happens—and so I quit. But after a month or two, I’m going nuts, so I reach out to Carol. And I go, “Carol, I’m going nuts. Can we can we do something small scale? I know we can’t do the restaurant, but what can we do together?”

She invited me to come over and work for her, and to cook for her clients. Her office was upstairs and had an Italian restaurant downstairs, which was only open for dinner. So, she would explain to me, “So and so’s are diabetic, so when we cook for diabetics, let’s cook with these ingredients. We have cancer patients, you know, we got to make sure that we’re not giving them hormones, we got to make sure we do this. And then we have bodybuilders.” So I said let’s do like a healthy Stouffers, you know, Lean Cuisines, or whatever those things are called. We got our little containers, and I started just making all this food. She had freezers upstairs, she had three different kinds of freezers for the three categories. And the clients would come and visit with her then they would leave with vitamins and tons of food.

Andy Vantrease  32:36
It was like a meal prep, professionally, for people.

Claudia Krevat  32:39
Everything was vegetarian. So I learned a lot, but what was the best feeling was to see how they were getting healthy. It was hard to measure a cancer patient’s progress, but they felt the love. They felt the caring in the food. And I had one group that had me do the Ayurveda, and these were the couples that said, “Please just cook from these books, and when you get bored of these recipes, we’ll buy you another. This is the kind of food that we want to eat.” I learned about the benefits of turmeric and ginger and all the ancient spices. What to eat cold and what to eat warm, and not necessarily that I eat like that, but I respect it and for people who believe what the philosophy is, and it works for them. I was really doing extremely well until my husband says, “Why didn’t we just drop everything and we move to Montana??”

Andy Vantrease  33:43
You have always lived in a tropical climate for the most part. You had visited your sisters in West Virginia and Ohio, but then now you’re in Montana, which is a whole different ballgame than Miami or Columbia.

Claudia Krevat  33:59
Yeah, you know what I haven’t mentioned to you—and this is a very small part—but my best friend in college is this Cuban woman, Yolanda, and we’re still extremely good friends. She had a mother named Juanita. Juanita became my Mama Esco in Miami. Yolanda lived with her parents even though she was in college. She lived with her mom and dad until she got married. And I would go there on Saturdays and she would make us “arroz con pollo”, chicken and rice, and we drink beers and listen to Celia Cruz sing salsa. I tell er, “Juanita, we’re moving to Montana. What am I going to eat there? And then she goes, “Beans. Everybody eats beans.”

So I am a loyal client of Town and Country because it was local, and one of the things that I’ve always done in my life is shop locally because that’s how I grew up going to the open markets in Baranquilla, and then to the East Coast fisheries in Miami and homestead for the produce. I’m like where are the farmers here in Bozeman in 1998? I didn’t see them. So, I am looking for Goya Black beans because Goya is a Spanish brand and Town and Country had it, and not all black beans tastes the same. Then you go and you look up, and there’s these little cellophane packages, the Timeless Food Products, with a bright orangey color, little tiny like freckles, and then these yellow ones. I’m very fascinated by these lentils and the back of the package says Conrad, Montana. I am passionate about atlases and maps, that’s the international relations in me, you know, just looking at geography. I love geography. And Conrad is over here…hmm. So let’s look it up, and Facebook is around already. So I look it up and Timeless has a page, and there’s the CEO. So I private message, I go I friend him, and then we start chatting. He’s like, “Oh my goodness, everybody just does salads and soups, you’re making ketchup out of lentils?”

Andy Vantrease  36:21
So he was excited by the creativity that you were bringing to it, and you were excited because it was an organic lentil made right here in Montana.

Claudia Krevat  36:34
Yes, and after a few meetings, he said, “You know, they’re writing a book about us called the Lentil Underground. The author is a local writer from Missoula. She worked for Senator Tester, she came and did an internship here with us. I have a conference call with her, and I think it would be amazing if we propose to her for you to write a cookbook.” So, Liz (Carlisle) was just all over the idea. She was Michael Pollan’s mentee, and asked him to be part of her dissertation. He agreed, and the dissertation was Montana—The Lentil Underground.

Andy Vantrease  37:18
Oh, wow.

Claudia Krevat  37:20
She said to me, “You’re coming to the book tour. And you’re gonna cook for Michael Pollan at the School of Journalism in UC Berkeley. And you’re also going to teach a class at Stanford University. The last guest was Jamie Oliver, so you have a tough competition to follow. It’s called the teaching kitchen, and it’s in the Department of Sustainability. And then we’re also going to go to the Petaluma Seed Bank.”

I said, “You need to get me a commercial kitchen because I can’t cook out of this house, if you want me to cook, because we have to make sure nobody gets sick.” She tells me that I have to make 1,600 lentil bites. And I’m like, “What? Oh my god.” So she goes, “Okay, from the recipes that you’re designing for the cookbook, choose the ones that you’re most passionate about that are not too complicated.” Of course I choose tamales, they’re so complicated.

I did the Conrad Lentil Ketchup. I did Timeless Tamalitos, the Renegade something. And then I did this little corn patties Freckled Arepas. Michael Pollan’s favorite were the tamales. I used the yellow lentils as part of the masa, they became the wet agent. Everything was vegan. I didn’t use any animal products. So, it was all coconut oil and soup, lentil soup to make the masa. And then I took butternut squash, mushrooms, kale, and Beluga lentils and put them on the top. We had that with the cilantro salsa that you had the other day. And he loved it. He loved it. It was an amazing experience and to be at UC Berkeley and to see Janis Joplin’s picture!

Andy Vantrease  39:18
Home of all the hippies.

Claudia Krevat
I made it to hippie land!

Andy Vantrease
What year was this?

Claudia Krevat  39:20
2016. So, we’re there for like a week. Then Liz has her book tour in her state, and she asked me to go to Missoula, which is her hometown. I taught couple of classes at the Good Food store there. I’m asked to go to farm tours, and cook so Dave is like, “Can you come to Ulm? Can you come to Havre? Can you come to Fort Benton? To all these places because we’re promoting the book and this is the home of these farmers?” Sure thing. I said to get me some lentils, and I recreate the same dishes that we did for the tasting.

So I come back with 25-pound bags of lentils. Actually, some of them are not in a bag; they’re in five-gallon buckets. I have over 400 pounds of lentils in the house, which I still have, because I keep asking for more—and I’ll tell you why in a minute. I’m working on the recipes and my family loves it, but at one point it’s like, when Gabby was little, “No mas, mommy. No more.” Steve is like, “No more.” My dogs were eating lentil bites!

What am I going to do with all these lentils? I met Rick Boss, the author, and he says, “Well, why don’t you come to one of my workshops? I have one in October in Troy.” So, I signed up for it, I went, and on the way back, I’m listening to Francis Lam in the Splendid Table, and he’s doing a whole thing about musicians. They jam and after the jam, they just eat, and you know, if there’s people that have been listening to the music, and they walk in, you know, it’s free dinner for their little community in the French Quarter or whatever. So I thought… ahh a free dinner for my community. Oh, that’d be amazing. Because I always wanted to be part of a community and you know, with my sociology background—the strength of a society is how strong your community is. So, I say what a great way to bring them together, so I share the idea with David and he says, “You need more lennels?” He calls them “lennels.” I said that I need you to be my guest, be my first guest of the Lentil Table.

He was my first guest, and I made a pizza because I had a private dining room at Red Tractor Pizza. Adam made me the shell, and I made a harissa with black goddess hummus—it was absolutely delicious. And David spoke, so the plan is for the next one was another guest to bring somebody else from the community. I brought somebody from the Bozeman Film, because I love film, too. And then I brought Doug from Mozambique, to talk about his project with Cuba. Then I brought Gallatin Valley Farm to School. Then I brought farmers, and it was just trying to introduce a community to smaller people that were doing amazing things, but not everybody knows about them. And it just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

Andy Vantrease  42:49
And where I met you this past summer was at Eagle Mount. And there were over 100 people there.

Claudia Krevat  42:56
Yep. I had 135 people paid. I don’t know if they all showed up because it was such a wide space.

Andy Vantrease
Yeah and it was outside, so it’s hard to tell.

Claudia Krevat
And it was outside, it was COVID. It was so wonderful to have it because it was, you know, last year was a tough year.

Andy Vantrease  43:15
Yeah. Yeah. To bring people together. So your tagline for your current company, Claudia’s Mesa, is “One World, One Table.” What are you trying to do when you bring people together and you’re feeding them, but you’re bringing them to the same table?

Claudia Krevat  43:32
One of the wonderful things about lentils is that number one it is historic. It is a biblical staple that dates all the way back when it was called Mesopotamia. And that it has survived centuries. It’s this old, adorable little tiny thing that doesn’t ask for much, but it gives so much. What I love about lentils is that they can have many flags, but they don’t have barriers. They don’t build separation. So you can dress a lentil up in any color that you want. It takes spices so well. “One World, One Table” is that Lentil Table featuring that lentil with all these different flags, and knowing that if we break bread together, we are one. We become one at the table. It’s like King Arthur’s Round Table. But here we have an infinite number of tables or there are no tables—we’re just breaking bread. It’s “Somos una en la mesa,” which means “We are one at the table.” To make it shorter because that so long: “One World, One Table.” It’s carrying that message that it’s okay to be different. It’s okay to have different religious beliefs or no religious beliefs. That all people are good. Everybody has something good that we should be looking at. It’s just like when I was little I hated eggplant. But that’s because Mama Esco didn’t know how to cook an eggplant. But then when I visited my friends from Israel, man, can they cook an eggplant!

Andy Vantrease  45:20
Yeah, and there’s so much to learn. Being curious, and what do we have to teach each other and share with each other?

Claudia Krevat  45:28
Many people lose our naivete, we lose our innocence, but I haven’t lost mine. I want to instill a little bit of innocence. Because when we’re innocent, we don’t care about color. We don’t care about status. We don’t care about anything. We just want to play, and in my case, I just want to eat!

Andy Vantrease  45:46
It seems like your whole life you have had this fire and this passion for change and for helping people. You’ve gone through different phases of what that looks like, and what role you play in the change that you know, not to be cliche, but the change that you want to see in the world.

Claudia Krevat  46:07
Well, there’s a lot of things that are starting to become more clear. I don’t celebrate New Year in the way of New Year’s resolutions. I celebrate my birthday, because it’s a new year for me, and my birthday was just in November. Everything is kind of coming to place right now. I’m at the verge of signing a two-year contract with the Montana Department of Agriculture, the pulse crop division, and my mission is that I am an ambassador for the Montana pulse crops in Latin America. We created an initiative called Hola Montana, which is linking Montana producers with, for now, Colombia, because it’s where I’m from and I have connections there to make those introductions to create a link so that we can provide more opportunities for growers. And at the same time, provide a wholesome food for our people in Colombia, especially people with lower economic needs.

It’s not just bringing the lentils to a market like Super Tienda Olimpica, which is like a top grocery store like Kroger, but it’s taking it to the little tiendas. There’s more people in that market than there are in the big ones. To make sure that the Montana lentils are going to that tienda that in that little pueblito where Mama Esco grew up, which is called Palenque. So that they’re getting 12 grams of protein in a quarter cup of uncooked lentils, which becomes a half cup of cooked lentils, that you buy for very minimal price.

So imagine how good that feeling is that we can create this relationship, and at the same time, we want to bring those people towards the magic. We want to take them to the farms, because they’ve been buying lentils from Canada, and not that we don’t like our neighbors, but why go there when you got us, right? We’re establishing that relationship, and my job is to create content for Hola Montana, to go there to cook, to connect our growers with people that I know there, and then to return the trip.

But I also want to expand my Lentil Table. I’m going to apply for a grant and maybe I don’t get it because it has never been given to an individual. It has been given to like the Department of Agriculture, but I’m going to the USDA and asking for a grant for us, meaning the Lentil Table so that I can take the Lentil Table throughout Montana. I want to introduce Montana to Montanans like I did when I created the Lentil Caravan with funds from the Red Ants Pants Foundation. I traveled the state, and I went to schools and to women’s clubs and the boy’s clubs or you know, all those YMCAs. I want to make it self-sufficient so that I don’t have to go but they start creating their own little communities themselves.

I have good friends like Sarah Calhoun of Red Ants Pants. She’s like, “You can count on us in White Sulphur Springs.” I have the Manuels in Havre, so I already have these connections of farmers and of great people so that we could do that. I’m also writing again, so I’m working on two books: One of them is a cookbook with stories from the other book. And that’s going to continue carrying the story, the lentil story. Oh, and also revamping my spice line! It’s going to be renamed to names of countries and flavors so that’s going to be the passport for the lentils. We’re going to see if I can get with another organization that we can make, like soups with the spices, so that we can send this to certain communities, to reservations, so that we can help people in Montana eat better.

Andy Vantrease  50:21
One of the threads that I have heard, just as you’ve talked, is this idea of needing to feel. Mama Esco told you in order to cook, you need to feel. Your counselor said that in order to write, you need to feel. And so much of what you are doing in building community and networking and bringing people together is, from my perspective, helping people to feel. Helping people to use their senses and to eat and to talk to each other and to have emotions about what it feels like to be together.

When it’s all said and done, you have this very special relationship with how you feel about lentils as this universal symbol of nourishment and compassion and nutrition and all of these things that you believe the lentils to be. I want to ask you to speak to the lentils and tell them how you feel. What would you say?

Claudia Krevat  51:26
You know the corny song from Flashdance “What a Feeling? I can have it all.” I’m grateful because they have made me have it all. They really have. When I’m at my Lentil table, I’m a ham. I love the camera. I’ll pose, I don’t care how I look. I got people looking at me. They have my attention. And then I have music going on. I have food that people are eating. And then I’m looking around once the speeches are done, and I’m seeing this group, they’re having fun and they’re eating. I’m seeing the little kid dancing. And I’m like, “It’s all because of you.”

If I didn’t have the lentils… they’re the reason that I’ve been able to express myself. It’s my language. So, what a feeling!

Andy Vantrease  52:38
Chef Claudia. A vibrant and brilliant woman who I am so happy to know. Since we met this summer, I’ve learned that a friendship with Claudia guarantees delicious food, hip-shaking music, conversations about culture, people, history, literature, oneness and meditation. That sharing what you know and giving your gifts in service to others is a special type of fulfillment that I think we all long for.

Claudia lives with such a childlike wonder and curiosity and her ability to relate to many different people and places has inspired me to keep learning, keep putting myself out there and trust that it’s not only safe to be open to others, but it’s a hell of a lot more rewarding and adventurous! Seeing Claudia’s collaborations around town and her aspirations to bring the Lentil Table to rural Montana is amazing, and I hope to help support her in her ventures and tag along for the ride as long as I’m here.

To learn more about Claudia and her offerings, visit ClaudiasMesa.com and HolaMontana.com.

A special thank you to Matthew Marsolek and the Drum Brothers, whose music you hear at the beginning and end of this podcast, as well as Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen, who first turned us on to the phenomenon of the Dandelion Effect and how ideas move through the world.

This podcast is a production of the Feathered Pipe Foundation, a 501c3 dedicated to healing, education, community and empowerment. If you’d like to help support this project, please visit FeatheredPipe.com/gratitude or leave a review on Apple podcasts and share with your friends. Be sure to tune in to our next episode in two weeks. We cannot wait to share another amazing conversation with you. Until then, have a beautiful day!