Allen Susser – (South Florida)
Chef Allen Susser is one of Chefs Collaborative’s founding Members. Our founders acknowledged their leadership in the celebration of food, and they recognized the impact of food choices on our collective personal health, on the vitality of cultures and on the integrity of the global environment.
Chefs Collaborative was founded at an inflection point for chefs, says Chef Allen Susser. It was the start of the odyssey that made chefs public figures working to build a new food environment where clean, honest food was a basic right for everyone. “We were all looking for our own paths through a fast changing landscape,” he says. The restaurant world was exploding as America discovered its own bounty, its own cuisines with regional influences, local specialties. American food magazines were finding their voices and becoming a support system for American chefs.
“South Florida’s food scene was growing in leaps and bounds as chefs realized we had our own local farmers and unique seafood bounty,” says Allen, whose eponymous South Florida restaurant delighted critics by marrying local seafood with the region’s tropical fruits.
The meeting in Hawaii was the first time chefs had ever come together to talk about their profession. “We had been isolated, alone,” he says. “Then suddenly we were building relationships with each other around the country. We discovered we had similar issues, similar needs. Chefs Collaborative created a space where we could think out loud together.”
“We wanted to have high quality ingredients available, not just to us, to everyone,” says Allen. “Just articulating that idea was revolutionary. We got together to see what sparks flew. What do you need in Florida? What’s important in Boston? Speak up! It was awesome.” Afterwards, Allen says he started supplying Florida stone crabs to other chefs, shipping them out next-day air to his friends across the country. “We knew who to buy crabs from and when it was best to buy them. Other chefs could trust us and offer their guests something special. In Hawaii, we met chefs like Alan Wong, who shared their traditions. Sustainable seafood was important to all of us,” Allen says, noting that the mission continues for Chefs Collaborative chefs today through their support for Monterey Bay Aquarium programs.
The need for food equity has never wavered. “We need to find a permanent fix for this injustice. Jose Andres has taken a great leadership role but there should be more chefs leading by example.” And it needs to start in restaurant kitchens. “Chefs need to take better care of their staffs. How are our families doing? How do we protect our people while making our restaurants sustainable financially?”
The original goals were ambitious, so the work continues. Allen is committed to meeting the challenge of feeding the homeless, hungry and the homebound elderly of South Florida. Allen received The James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Award 1994, Southeast region. The next year, he received an Honorary Doctorate degree from Johnson & Wales University and published his first cookbook, “New World Cuisine and Cookery,” Doubleday. “The Great Citrus Book” and “The Great Mango Book,” Ten Speed Press, followed.