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Conversation with Master Chef Craig Shelton on Common Sense Versus Scientific Validity, and Motivation: Founder, Aeon Hospitality (3)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/04/08


Chef Craig Shelton has over 40 years of experience in science-based cooking and teaching in the hospitality business. He trained in eight of the world’s greatest restaurants, including “El Bulli”, “Jamin”; “Ma Maison”, “L’Auberge de l’Ill”, “Le Pré Catelan”, “Bouley”, “Le Bernardin”, and “La Côte Basque. Chef Shelton has earned countless awards as Chef-Owner of his own restaurants including a James Beard Best Chef medal, NY Times 4-Stars ratings on four separate occasions, a 5-Star Forbes rating, the Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef title; and Number One Top Restaurant in America in 2004 from GQ. Mr. Shelton is also an instructor at Princeton University in the Princeton Environmental Institute, where he teaches a freshman seminar on the interrelationships between public policy, agriculture, diet-related disease and anthropogenic climate change. Mr. Shelton began his expertise in this area while an undergraduate of Yale where he earned his degree in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry. He is a co-founder of the think tank, Princeton Center for Food Studies, the founder of King’s Row Coffee, and a co-founder of Aeon Holistic Agriculture, Inc. He is recognized as a consummate business consultant with specialization in macro finance. He is known for his ability to generate excitement in his cooks and instill in them the drive toward excellence by connecting all aspects of gastronomy to the larger intellectual landscape – chemistry, ecology, literature, art and human physiology. His great passions are reading and ocean sailing. His full C.V. can be seen here. More about Aeon HospitalityMountainville ManorAeon Holistic AgricultureKings Row Coffee, and Princeton Studies Food (in the hyperlinks provided). He discusses: common sense and scientific tenability; and motivation.

Keywords: Aeon Hospitality, agriculture, Craig Shelton, farming, human health, motivation, nutrition.

Conversation with Master Chef Craig Shelton on Common Sense Versus Scientific Validity, and Motivation: Founder, Aeon Hospitality (3)

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What about on the side of food production? In other words, making a dish, delivering it to the plate of individual customers, what have been some big things taken as folk wisdom or common sense in the culinary arts, which are simply not scientifically tenable?

Master Chef Craig Shelton[1],[2]*: Yes, sometimes, I think only the Marquis de Sade could have designed the restaurant business model.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Shelton: You could not have designed a model more poorly to do the bigger issues with consistency, delivering high quality. All businesses are supposed to have three divisions: marketing, finance, and operations.

The restaurants, especially independent restaurants, are basically operations divisions. For generations, they only had operations. There is no finance. A bookkeeper comes in and does the damage report every once in a while.

You have no marketing department with a whole group of people who study markets and test ideas and determine memes. None of that happens. I think it is partially because we have defaulted to the critic.

You have these evangelists, originally, in the industry. The connoisseur type critic who is out to spread the gospel and the wonder of arts at the table. It was kind of lovely, but it also invited a certain intellectual laziness saying, “We don’t need to market. That’s the job of the critic.”

When you’re not making a promise to your clients, things get wobbly really fast. It’s a lack of clarity of what operations should be fulfilling. The purpose of marketing is to make promises and powerful promises, and successful promises.

As you build the business, the promises should be meaningful to the market. They should be unique and explicit. People should know what it is that they’re expecting. All of that is completely missing.

If you were to say, “What are the implicit promises?” Since no one has a tagline, if you have a company like Federal Express, we can all remember the opening regional tagline when it positively has to be there overnight.

That is an extraordinary promise in all regards, extremely valuable to the people who use the service. It is unique. No one else can have an overnight guarantee. Thirdly, it is explicit. It is laid out.

None of that is happening in the restaurant industry. You are left with the default premises based on the word “restaurant,” which is from the French restaurer. So, what is it we are promising to restore? We are promising to restore the traditional health of the body.

Of course, wouldn’t you know? That is the absolute largest gap in the pedagogy of cooking schools. There is no training on nutrition, especially on up to date modern nutrition. What about the second? The emotional welfare, the restoring of emotional state of happiness.

Much of that occurs through the intermediation between the senses: taste, smell, touch, and so forth, guess what? There is a second great lacuna missing in the pedagogy of cooking school. There’s no teaching about the neurophysiology of the senses, none whatsoever.

This is why you will see every cookbook with such inanities as ‘seasoned to taste.’

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Shelton: Because if you understand how fluid the sense organs work, the one thing that you can never trust is sense. The momentary rigour of your sense organs. It can be extraordinarily precise, if you will, in measuring the change, the first derivative.

The change, “The thing I just tasted is this saltiness. The thing I tasted now.” It can be a high degree of precision in noticing the change. However, because of fatigue or desensitization, it is remarkable how unreliable the sense organs are.

The nominal quantity, the actual degree of salinity, the actual degree of acidity, the actual degree of sweetness. It can be off by many magnitudes of order because of the immediate prehistory of what has happened before.

Jacobsen: On a personal level, where do you get your motivation? It’s not simply having a high ability level and channeling it. It is drive too. For some, they acquire this from a personal faith. Others, they acquire this from an individual preference for challenge.

Others see it based in some kind of abstract ethical duties. Others, they want to make a living.

Shelton: I judge this by a moral imperative. I grew up as a dual-citizen in the full sense of the word. I enjoy the culture deeply. I was introduced to gastronomy. Here’s what I kept noticing, when I was in France, we ate with reckless abandon, including dessert. No one counted a calorie.

I always lost weight. Enjoying the food to the Nth degree, never measuring anything, never leaving the table hungry, always fulfilled, happy, experiencing the highest states of clarity, cognitive clarity, which I recall.

Then I come back to America to the standard American grain-based diet. I feel sluggish, comparatively, put on weight until it was uncomfortable. So, this is one reality. I am experiencing this.

I am going through high school science classes and chemistry, physics. I am being told a calorie is a calorie is a calorie. Obviously, all of the problems in this society are the fact that we need to justify the idiotic thing called Occam’s Razor.

This belief that when multiple solutions present themselves, then the simplest one is the most correct one. What is the basis for the claim? There is no basis for that. In fact, human experience should tell us the exact opposite.

Almost all things, in fact, that are important that we want to understand require complex systems mathematics, which very few of us are comfortable with and employ. We would rather have this totalitarian Napoleonic-type tale of the totalitarians, which is a desire for a simple folk tale.

To look at all this, and to look at what the standard American diet has done for human health here, and around the world, this grain-based diet and industrial seed oil called vegetable oil replacing wild, organic, 100% grass-fed animal fats.

It has caused more death and more economic harm, and more medical harm, than all the wars America has fought put together. This is a great breaking of the trust, in my mind. It is the idea restaurants are supposed to be peddling life.

Whereas, most of them are peddling death. Many of them are not aware of it. There is a way, in my life. I have been desperately trying to show through Aeon (Hospitality) with combining gastronomy and agriculture some things to people.

The reason French cuisine is still possibly the best cuisine on Earth is because French agriculture is the most beneficial, the healthiest, agriculture. It is the nation that made the decision-tree based on behaviour based on hedonism.

Whereas, everyone else was compromising that with economics. No one worse than America. To me, America and France (and Japan) represent the ends of the spectrum of agriculture. America, I can describe it as corn disguised as protein and water disguised as produce.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Shelton: Toxic water disguised as produce. That’s what is interesting. Our entire feedback loop is the FDA, which only concerns itself with shape and colour. They don’t even measure nutrient density or nutrient composition.

It is purely superficial, which is exactly the right mechanism if what you’re selling is corn disguised as protein and water disguised as produce. So, even in my work at Princeton, people are much more comfortable with the simple map of unstacked agricultural systems.

Let’s compare the yield in calories, a mono-cultural yield of corn versus a mono-cultural yield of beef. Of course, you’re going to get more calories from corn. However, regenerative agriculture, especially integrated livestock systems, are not to be understood in terms of monoculture, but in terms of multi-culture. It means stacked systems.

You can have trees. You can have fruits. You can have a cycling on-and-off lands, which increases the fertility and the nitrogen fixation. The nutrient density of the produce can skyrocket. The quality of the protein and, most importantly, the quality of the fats skyrockets.

There’s a massive deficit worldwide. The major deficit worldwide is Omega-3. We have these damn vegetable oils. The point, which I am trying to make, is: If you use rotational management of herds and rotational management of produce, and those are well-understood, you rotate those two rotations on parcels of lands.

You end up with a pretty extraordinary case of biomimicry, which captures carbon. So, the net result is a reduction of carbon in the atmosphere. You end up with extraordinarily healthy output as a byproduct of the sale.

In a sense, the price of everything comes down, as long as you have the same scale. That’s the only reason industrial agriculture is able to produce – if you want to call it – food products. The only reason a tomato or a cucumber raised in an industrial farm is less expensive than an organic version is because of scale.

Industrial farms can be 10,000 acres. Most of our organic farms are mini-mom-and-pop places with 2, 5, or 100 acres. They are too small to use the same labour saving equipment. The automated carrot harvester that can do the work of 50 people, better, with less damage to the carrot and to the soil, etc.

For a long time, I have been trying to make a proof of concept to get to the next real level. Where, you are not farming 100 acres, but farming 5,000 acres with this labour-saving equipment. This is the idea of replacing extractive systems with generative systems.

The center piece, most of these problems, e.g., climate change. If we converted 60% of the crop land that we have remaining over to these carbon negative, regenerative, integrated systems, we would have more food than the current system.

We would be growing topsoil instead of destroying topsoil. We would have infinitely healthier human outcomes, so drop the cost of medical expenditures, including diseases of civilization caused by a high grain-based, high-glycemic index, toxic thing.

At the end of the day, this is the idea of integrating all of these things for the love of the biological sciences. My love of cuisine and human health. It is the diet related aspects of human health. The natural health of the planet, planetary sciences, ecological sciences, the environmental part of it.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Founder, Aeon Hospitality.

[2] Individual Publication Date: April 8, 2021:; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2021:

*High range testing (HRT) should be taken with honest skepticism grounded in the limited empirical development of the field at present, even in spite of honest and sincere efforts. If a higher general intelligence score, then the greater the variability in, and margin of error in, the general intelligence scores because of the greater rarity in the population.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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