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This is how it started...

The Lentil Table



In 1998, I left behind my hometown in Miami, Florida, to embark on a new adventure in Montana. My family and friends were skeptical about my ability to find the tropical fruits and vegetables I was accustomed to. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Montana had its unique bounty to offer.

Growing up in Barranquilla, Colombia, I was always captivated by the open-air market where local farmers sold abundant fresh produce. I used to accompany our family cook, Mamaesco, as she carefully selected the ripest fruits and vegetables for our meals. The sights, smells, and flavors of the market always fascinated me, and I knew that transforming these ingredients into nourishing meals was my calling.


Moving from Colombia’s Caribbean Coast to Miami, Florida, wasn’t a big change in ingredients and Latin American cuisine. However, when I announced my move to Montana, everyone was skeptical about what I would cook without the familiar tropical ingredients. The cold climate seemed incompatible with the flavors I knew so well. However, my best friend's mother, Juanita, reassured me that even in the worst-case scenario, rice and beans would always be a staple in many cuisines.

My first winter in Montana was incredibly cold, without any banana or tamarind trees. However, I discovered a new world of diverse beans with various shapes, sizes, and colors. I was particularly fascinated by the lentils, which came in vibrant red, brown, green, and yellow hues. Garbanzo beans, available in both cream-colored and jet-black, reminded me of home. Even though rice didn't grow in Montana, local farmers introduced me to heirloom grains such as purple barley, prairie farro, and indigo-colored corn, which added unique flavors and textures to my dishes.


After connecting with local farmers, I learned that the beans I had grown to love belong to a group of plants called pulse crops. These crops not only replenish nutrients in the soil but also provide nourishment to communities worldwide. Pulse crops possess nitrogen-fixing properties that benefit the plants and the people who consume their protein-rich seeds. For centuries, these pulses have been traded across continents, bringing together humanity's extended family and nurturing the earth.


In 2014, I had the pleasure of meeting David Oien, farmer and CEO of my favorite lentil brand, Timeless Food. Dave told me that someone was writing a book about Timeless and that he would love to introduce me to Liz Carlisle, author of THE LENTIL UNDERGROUND.


In just a few months, I had the opportunity to travel to the Bay Area with Liz and the Timeless Farmers for the book tour. During the tour, we visited several places, such as UC Berkeley's Department of Journalism, where famous author Michael Pollan complimented my vegan lentil tamales. We also visited the Petaluma Seed Bank, Stanford University's Department of Sustainability, and their Teaching Kitchen. Throughout the tour, I prepared and served over 1500 lentil bites for people to sample.


Our travels continued throughout Montana, where Liz and the Timeless farmers were greeted enthusiastically. Liz read passages from The Lentil Underground in Missoula, Livingston, and Bozeman, while I prepared bites for all present. There were farm tours, events put by AERO, and many visits to the Timeless lentil growers farms in the Golden Triangle. After each visit, I was given gallon bags and food crates filled with edible gems. After a few months of touring, I took inventory in my garage and realized I had over 400 pounds of lentils, chickpeas, dried peas, and ancient grains.


I started designing recipes, using inspiration from my Colombian background, my Italian and Sephardic roots, and my favorite Mediterranean cuisine. Though my family was enthusiastic initially, they put their feet down when I started serving them at lunch and dinner.


What should I do with so many lentils? I couldn't ignore them, knowing that so many starving people in the world. Then I had an idea to feed the Bozeman community for free. I started announcing my free dinners to my friends and neighbors, and they spread the word to their family and friends. Soon enough, the RSVPs grew from 12 to 20s, 30s, 40s, and even 50s. Eventually, I moved from my small space at the back of Red Tractor Pizza to the City and County Parks.


In 2022, I had made new friendships and partnerships with Eagle Mount, Bodhi Farms, and Hardscrabble Ranch. Attendance grew to 200 people.


The gatherings took a new form as well. We began promoting nonprofits, hiring DJs, and dancing our feet until exhaustion.


Currently, I am in Sedona, on hiatus and planning for our future. Despite the pause, I aim to maintain our tradition of hosting large summer dinners. Additionally, I plan to introduce smaller monthly Lentil Table gatherings. These gatherings will provide us with a chance to keep sharing meals, celebrate and pay tribute to our lentils and farmers, and recognize what we have in common as a community while respecting and acknowledging our differences, which make our community more diverse. My father, Papi, used to say that the more fruits in the tutti-frutti, the better its flavor and taste.



I invite you to join me on this gastronomic journey as we celebrate the power of pulses and their connections in our community. Let's embrace the flavors of our immediate surroundings and discover the rich tapestry of global cuisine that can be woven into our kitchens.

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