Sheila Lucero at James Beard Foundation

Jax Executive Chef Sheila Lucero at the James Beard Foundation’s Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change

Earlier this fall, Sheila Lucero—the executive chef of Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar—was invited to participate in the James Beard Foundation’s 11th annual Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change. Held at scenic Shelburne Farms in Burlington, Vermont, the conference brought together 15 civically and politically minded chefs from around the country to learn effective policy and advocacy skills to help fuel their work in sustainability. The three-day hoe-down included classes led by chefs as well as politicians, focus groups, demos, and a collaboration dinner. The dialogue this year revolved around the US Farm Bill, which relates to everything from conservation and rural development to food programs and trade, and is up for renewal again this year.

“It was an amazing experience,” says Sheila. “It was really inspiring to work alongside so many talented and passionate chefs. I think we all came away feeling both informed and motivated. Plus, Shelburne Farms is just beautiful, especially this time of year. I feel truly lucky to have been invited.”

While Sheila’s work has always been focused on seafood and sustainability, she found it eye-opening to learn about the other food system issues and the creative ways in which chefs are tackling them.

“One of the most important things I learned about is the SNAP Program,” says Sheila, “without it, millions of people across the country would go hungry. It’s essential nationwide and could potentially come undone when the next Farm Bill passes. Chefs today are very lucky to have the voice and influence that they do, and it’s important we use that influence to make sure programs like this don’t get swept under the rug.”

It has been a busy year for Sheila—the Boot Camp came hot on the heels of her recent trip to Capitol Hill. As a leading member of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Blue Ribbon Task Force, she was invited to Washington, DC to meet with congressmen to discuss sustainability and the health of our oceans. All in all, it was considered a great success—not only did she make some good connections with key policymakers (and Jax fans!) but their response was overwhelmingly positive. Those connections, coupled with strategies learned at the James Beard Foundation’s Boot Camp, will hopefully allow her to make an even bigger impact on the state of our coasts and the longevity of our nation’s fisheries.

“It is such an inspiring time to be a chef,” says Sheila. “People are more interested in food than ever—and not just eating and cooking it, but where it comes from and the impact it has. We’ve definitely come a long way, but we have a lot of work to do.

Next up, Sheila will head to Charleston, SC, for her third conference with Seafood Watch’s Blue Ribbon Task Force. Stay tuned for more!