Behind the Food at Fresh: An Interview With CJ Shaffer

by Laurel Lacher

LL: Tell me a little about yourself and your connection with Tucson Waldorf School (TWS).

CJ: I first discovered Waldorf online when my oldest daughter was about 3 years old.  What really caught my eye was the art and the environment – the natural toys and the sense of deliberate and intentional use of materials for kids to play with.  Going from home-schooling my kids to Waldorf seemed very natural.  Now, my oldest is 18 and my other four kids are at TWS.

LL: How would you characterize your relationship with TWS now?

CJ: We (my family) give a lot of time and energy to the school, but TWS has given us so much more than I could have ever dreamed of for my kids and me, personally.  It gives us space to be ourselves and speaks to some sort of alternative side of us.

LL: Tell me about your first experience catering a TWS event.

CJ: The first two years of fresh! were very different than what we have now.  Initially, it was a celebration of Farmer John’s birthday and was held in the garden area.  The 2nd year, Farmer John burned mesquite for 12 hours to make the perfect bed of coals for a pig roast.  We stuffed and seasoned the pig – something I had never done before – and we cooked it underground.  It was a really successful and fun event.  So, I’ve helped with fresh! most of the last 6 or 7 years.

LL: I remember that party – it was great and the pork was delicious!  So, what has your experience with fresh! been like since you started cooking with Andy (Rouse) in 2016?   

CJ: Andy is the backbone and he really does everything for the fresh! catering. He’s very patient and listens to me, which is really nice.  I think he knows that I’m comfortable making substitutions (like gluten-free, dairy-free, etc.) and he trusts my intuitive style of cooking.  I’m looking forward to this year’s event and will be working hard to support Andy in the kitchen.

LL: How did you become a chef?

CJ: It’s funny, I don’t think of myself as a chef.  I never had any formal training, but I do have a large family, so that’s where I gained my experience.  I love good food and always want to make it myself.  I was also a partner in a small catering business.  We used excess or damaged vegetables from Farmer John and Emily’s Tucson Waldorf CSA, and people seemed to like what we made.

LL: You talk a lot about nourishing others with the food you make.  What are some of your dreams for the future?

CJ: I would love for TWS to get a real kitchen so I could be the “lunch lady!”  I also dream running some type of soup kitchen where anyone can get served a bowl of hot, delicious soup for free.  Even though you can’t fix everything that is broken with people, you can at least nourish them with good food.  I am also interested in developing food products specifically designed to improve treatment outcomes for cancer and other patients who can benefit from medical marijuana.