Maggie Lawson Gets Local

The Middletown native’s personal chef services business, Goosefoot Cook and Grow, gives customers the locally sourced meals they crave.
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ILLUSTRATION BY JOHNNY RUZZO

Maggie Lawson moved back to Ohio four years ago from San Francisco and brought with her a wealth of knowledge about left coast–style farm-to-table cooking. We recently spoke with the Middletown native about her business, what inspires her, and the best meal she ever had.


Why did you start Goosefoot Cook and Grow?

I started my personal chef business in 2011 in the San Francisco Bay Area and when my mom, who lives in Milford, started dealing with some really serious health issues and I felt like I needed a big change, I decided to move back to Cincinnati. In January 2020, I sold half the business to my now–business partner, Erika Minkowsky, and we decided to launch a new location in Cincinnati. Unfortunately, another local business had decided to use the same name shortly before I relocated so we had to totally rebrand our business and Goosefoot was born! I wanted to offer the same delicious locally-sourced, personalized food we were making in California to folks here.

How did you come up with the name for your business?

We were struggling to choose a new name. One night right before bed I read an article about an Appalachian chef who had moved back to his hometown, a struggling mining community, and planted the “hillbilly” food his grandparents had in their home garden and created an entire restaurant around that. I really related to his experience. My family is also from Appalachia. The goosefoot plant was one of those plants mentioned in the article. That night, I had a dream that this native weed was nowhere to be found even though I knew it grew prolifically around the edges of farms. I woke up and knew that Goosefoot was our new name and started researching its significance to native people and its nutritional value.

What’s your food philosophy?

Moving back to Ohio right at the start of COVID forced me to stop cooking for a little bit and reinvest in my values as a chef. The grocery store shelves were empty for the first time in my life, and I befriended some really amazing local female farmers. I had time to go and visit with local farmers and learn about what they are doing and adapting to the climate crisis. I realized how urgent it was to invest in the local food system and draw myself and my community closer to the cycles of the natural world through food.

How does Goosefoot help you deliver your food philosophy to the Cincinnati community?

We’ve created a business that means working with local farms. Cooking seasonally is one of our top priorities. We use our outreach efforts in the community, demos at farmers’ markets, and social media to educate folks about what that means for the future of our planet and also try and make cooking and eating in this way super approachable. Our team is made up of individuals who care deeply about this kind of cooking. Our lead chef, Katie Jesurun, went to culinary school at Cincinnati State and worked in farm-to-table restaurants before she started farming for about five years. We’re really excited to have her back in the kitchen and combining her love for all things farming and cooking.

How did growing up in the area affect your relationship to food?

I grew up in Middletown. The Middletown area is a place that historically had really rich soil from the glacier deposits that resulted in lots of local agriculture. I think being surrounded by farms that were growing commodity crops like soy and corn destined for animal feed and processed foods impacted how delightful it was to wake up to food from farms that I could eat. This happened first in the French countryside, where I did an exchange year, and later in the early 2000s in Northern California where farmers’ markets where a huge part of the culture.

You spent 15 years in California building the Heirloom Chef, which offers similar personal chef services as Goosefoot. How did it feel to essentially start over here when you moved back to the area in 2020?

Fortunately, the Heirloom Chef is still up and running and prospering in California. We’re one big company with two brands. It’s given me a huge runway to launch Goosefoot. However, coming back was humbling. I had to get to know the local culinary community here and also understand how to create something that met the needs of families here struggling to feed themselves. Our food isn’t the comfort food that some consumers expect from personal chef/meal delivery services. We had to find our people! The great thing was because it’s a smaller community and fewer people are doing what we do, the ones that do share our values extended themselves and really wanted to collaborate so there was also something super exciting and supportive about that dynamic.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?

What a hard choice! I love eating so much but I think I’ll say a friend invited me last minute to Chez Panisse and we ended up doing the tasting menu and something about enjoying that food, in that space, with one of my oldest friends, was magical. They started with a fennel kir royale, followed by a really stellar steak frites and I’m sure some deliciously prepared, locally sourced vegetables.

I had dinner at Chez Panisse when I was visiting San Francisco many moons ago, and I was blown away by the quality of ingredients. Is that the type of quality you’re shooting for? How hard is it to achieve that here?

I think Chez Panisse is as much about mastering the nuances of seemingly simple techniques combined with sourcing the absolute best produce. It’s a high bar but there are definitely chefs and farmers working on that level here in Cincinnati. I think about our biodynamic farm partner Rose Hill Farm and Slaughter Family Farm that supplies our meat. I think about chefs like Elaine Uykimpang Bentz from Café Mochiko and Jeffery Harris of Nolia Kitchen. As a chef, it’s an exciting and promising time to be in Cincinnati!

What’s your favorite ingredient to work with?

I’m going to cheat and say salads. I love how many different textures, flavors, and temperatures you get to work with at one time and love, love all the vegetables you get to feature.

How does your work as a visual artist impact your cooking?

My artwork draws on my skills as a chef. I’ve been making a lot of work in the last few years about food preserving techniques like fermenting and canning, pantries, and homemaking. In the past I’d say, my artwork is much more conceptual and radical than my work as a chef. I think all the events of 2020 and moving back to Cincinnati has encouraged me to apply some of that radical and conceptual energy to my business. We’ve become much more transparent about our values around local food and about our labor practices.

How do you find chefs to work with you at Goosefoot? What are you looking for in a chef when you’re vetting a potential new hire?

We use some of the traditional platforms like ZipRecruiter and LinkedIn, but currently our entire team was referred to us by people in our network, including the farmers we work with. I look for someone who shares our values and has a culinary résumé that demonstrates quality but also really values being part of a team like ours and the kind of work-life balance we all strive to maintain. Most of us are actively parenting and have other creative pursuits and I think that brings a lot of richness to our work as a team: a high level of creativity and a deep nurturing energy in everything we do.

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