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Despite his Manhattan address, chef Peter Hoffman makes a point of staying rooted in the rhythms of the natural world. Rain or shine, he navigates urban thoroughfares by bicyclehis main mode of transportation. A large cargo section up front is handy for pedaling his two kids to school. It also helps for hauling away the bounty from his thrice-weekly stop-off at the Union Square Greenmarket. There, he watches the seasons unfold as new produce arrives, talks with the farmers about the food, and carts away inspiration for the menu at his acclaimed SoHo eatery, Savoy. Hoffman’s simple approach, emphasis on fresh ingredients, Mediterranean-inspired menu, and creativity with regional flavors have made Savoy a success on the crowded SoHo restaurant scene for the past 13 years.
“I know food better because I talk to the people who grow it,” says Hoffman, who’s making a life’s work of helping other chefs do the same. He sat on the Greenmarket’s advisory board for 15 years and is now national chair of the Chefs Collaborative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping chefs connect with farmers to make sustainable food choices.
“I strive to present foods in ways that refer to their natural form,” says Hoffman. By leaving the stem or leaves intact on a vegetable, for example, he hopes to remind customers of the source of their food. “To share that is to ground the food and ground the diner, and refer back to the fact that this is not a manufactured product, this is a product of the earth.”
To keep himself grounded, Hoffman turns to Iyengar Yoga, a practice he took up eight years ago. “I was starting to see that I was pretty compressed, physically and mentally,” Hoffman says. “Yoga really became sacrosanct, because everybody in the family and at the restaurant knew that it was important for my well-being.”
Working in a professional kitchen requires flexibility and creativity, says Hoffman, and yoga helps him on both fronts. “When I cut the cord and leave the restaurant to go to class,” he says, “when I completely let go of all the mundane demands of my life, I have more space to think creatively.”
“I really feel like yoga is my investment plan for my old age,” he adds. “Every minute or hour that I put into maintaining the breadth and length of my body is going to come back to me when I’m 70 or 80 years old.”
Hoffman has a similar long-term plan for his work as a chef. Though the flavor and presentation of each dish are critical to Savoy’s success, sustainable food choices drive the restaurant’s bottom line. “I don’t want to be associated with getting there faster by trashing the world as I win,” Hoffman says. “I want to benefit the planet. Life is wonderfulit’s a miracle.”
Catherine S. Gregory is a writer and former food editor in Colorado. She draws culinary inspiration from an eclectic yoga practice.