Picked for Your Plate: Top Farm to Table Restaurants for Earth Day + Every Day

Farm to table may be an overly used phrase at this point, but the underlying philosophy will always make sense. What could be better for chefs than access to hyper fresh produce and proteins raised by farmers with whom they have a personal connection? Rather than simply take what’s being offered, chefs are now making special requests for items they wouldn’t otherwise be able to find. We present three top farm to table restaurants for Earth Day that have cultivated special partnerships with farmers so they can serve their guests unparalleled – and oftentimes otherwise unavailable – vegetables, fruits, and herbs.

Travis Swikard, Culinary Director, Boulud Sud, New York, New York
“It all started three years ago, because Stokes Farm from Old Tappan, New Jersey, set up a farm stand next to the restaurant. I began talking to the farmers and ultimately started using his tomatoes. After I went on a farm tour, he offered us half his greenhouse to grow whatever we wanted. Now he grows us a ton of stuff: mustard greens, bronze fennel, pea shoots and pea flowers, pepper cress, and lemon verbena. In the fall, we use 600 pounds of his pumpkins a week — mostly Fairytales to make ravioli and Moroccan-spiced pumpkin soup. We’re also starting to develop a relationship with StarDust Farm in Pen Argyl, Pennsylvania, which we found on Instagram. We’ve been using his eggs for a year; they have bright, plump, firm yolks. They’re super-flavorful and very creamy – the way eggs are supposed to be. We put a slow poached one on top of our spring garlic aïgo boulido (pictured), which is essentially a garlic and potato velouté. This spring, they’re growing garlic for that soup, as well as peas and purple asparagus. In the summer, we’ll be getting baby spicy greens, field lettuce, chilies, piquillo peppers, five kinds tomatillos, and a bunch of different tomatoes. I have a strong drive to find the best ingredients and then make the best food with it. We want our diners to know the stories behind what they’re eating, so I like to provide the servers with some ammunition about these products so they can go to the table to let people know why it’s special.” Make a reservation at Boulud Sud.

Farm to Table Restaurants for Earth Day

Dane Sewlall, Executive Chef, Black’s Bar & Kitchen, Bethesda, Maryland
“Brett Grohsgal from Even’ Star Farm in Lexington Park, Maryland, came by the restaurant randomly one day, we got to talking, and we found out we have the same outlook on food. Everything at his farm is organic and he uses heirloom seeds. Prior to a season beginning, he’ll ask what I’m looking for. In the past, I’ve asked for green strawberries and purple and yellow cauliflower. If it’s in the realm of possibility, he’ll do it. He does a couple things for us that I haven’t seen anywhere else, including napini, which are the flowering tops of mustard greens and have a bitter, biting mustard flavor. He also grows us two edible flowers: red buds, which are pink and taste like snap peas, and little yellow arugula flowers, which have an intense arugula flavor. His pea greens are so much more flavorful and bolder than those grown hydroponically or in a hothouse. I use them to garnish our garam masala-crusted salmon (pictured), which is drizzled with a spicy tamarind sauce and is accompanied by samosas filled with potatoes, onions, and peas. As a chef, I don’t want to work with vegetables that have been on a plane or a boat for weeks on end. The longer it is out of the ground before you eat it, the more flavor it loses. So to serve stuff that’s so fresh and so local is going to give me the best possible flavors to work with.” Make a reservation at Black’s Bar & Kitchen.

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Shopping for Chefs: Trends + Numbers from the Pebble Beach Food and Wine 2016 #PBFW

Pebble Beach Food and Wine 2016 kicks off on March 31 and runs through April 3, and offers guests the chance to take part in enjoy once-in-a-lifetime tasting opportunities, cooking demonstrations, wine-paired luncheons and intimate dinners, elite wine seminars, and more. Continuing its reign as the premier food and wine event in the world, the festival will play host to 8,500 guests and feature 124 chefs, including Daniel Boulud (Daniel), Matthew Peters (Per Se), Joshua Skenes (Saison), Bryce Shuman (Betony), Stuart Brioza and Nicola Krasinkey (State Bird Provisions), Christopher Kostow (The Restaurant at Meadowood), and 250 distinguished winemakers. The Ment’Or Cooking Demo and Dinner alone will count 13 Michelin stars among participating chefs.

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As we look forward to this delicious event, we wondered about all the ingredients it takes to create these experiences. Enter Dorothy Maras, senior culinary event manager for both Pebble Beach Food and Wine and Los Angeles Food and Wine. Her job, in a nutshell, is to get the chefs there — and then get them whatever they want to ensure they can put out wow-worthy dishes and drink. From chef coats and credentials to itineraries and food equipment and disposables, Maras helps make it all happen. She and her team also source every ingredient, which is no small task when you’re talking about feeding almost 10,000 people. “It can be scary,” notes Maras. “Whatever you provide from growers has to be impeccable.”

This year alone, her team will stock up on a whopping seven to eight tons of food. That includes:

  • Two pallets, or 1,200 pounds, of octopus
  • 1,100 pounds of butter (900 salted, 200 unsalted, if you were wondering)
  • 480 pounds of cheese, 20% of which is of the blue or Roquefort variety
  • 300 pounds of berries
  • 300 pounds of carrots
  • 60 cases of Little Gem lettuce
  • 40 gallons of fish sauce
  • 22 cases of cauliflower

Before worrying about the quality and quantity of ingredients, however, she and her staff must be sure they understand what the ingredients are. With 35 years in the culinary industry, she’s no stranger to virtually anything, but with a roster of chefs from around the globe, there can often be language barriers. “What people call certain ingredients varies around the world. — as do measurements. Thank god for Google!,” she laughs. There are also at first-sight-misunderstandings, like the time a chef from the Caribbean put “1 kid” on a shopping list. “We all knew he meant a goat, but it was definitely funny upon first read.”

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Or when another asked for(ahemmerken, which turns out to be a spice, ICMYI. After a chuckle and striking at through their usual network of local growers and purveyors, they turned to Amazon. We typically source from within a 100-mile radius, but when a random request comes in, Maras admits, “Amazon is our friend.” Extreme requests can inspire growers to go to somewhat extreme measures. “We had a chef request cherry blossoms — only there weren’t any to be found on this coast.” She called a grower down south to make an inquiry and while he didn’t have any, he was able to clip them from a neighbor’s trees and overnight them, saving the day (or at least that chef’s dish).

As she’s been a part of the festival’s evolution over nearly a decade, Maras has had a front seat to the evolution of cooking. “It’s been fun to watch,” she says. “Everything old is new again.” Some hot trends Maras is seeing for 2016 include:

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Chefs are 86ing molecular gastronomy and too much fuss. “We’re seeing chefs utilizing a lot more heritage techniques, such as pickling and preserving.” Tweezers, too, are scarce. “Chefs are recognizing that people want food that is satisfying and substantial that doesn’t look like it was assembled with surgical tools.”Continue Reading

10 Restaurants with Their Own Farms: Happy #EarthDay

In honor of Earth Day, we’ve rounded up 10 restaurants that take the farm-to-table concept to another level — they have their very own farms. Talk about private stock. Celebrate Earth Day and sustainability with a reservation at one of these eateries that takes locavorism to a hyper local level!

Pawtomack Farm 41. Black Cat Farm Table, Boulder, Colorado + Black Cat Farm, Boulder, Colorado.

Chef Eric Skokan wasn’t a trained farmer when he started Black Cat Farm, but he likely qualifies as one now. After trial and error and advice from fellow farmers, he is now a skilled self-taught tractor driver and producer of American Mulefoot pigs and grower of sublime heirloom tomatoes, both of which you’ll find on the menus at Black Cat Farm Table and gastropub Bramble & Hare.

2. Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, New York + Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, Pocantico Hills, New York.

Dan Barber was inspired by the past to forge the future in establishing one of the nation’s most important restaurant-farm partnerships. Blue Hill opened on Stone Barns’ 80 acres in 2004, and the farm and the restaurant serve as a model for sustainable agriculture and cuisine.

3. JG Domestic, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania + Luna Farm, Ottsville, Pennsylvania.

Jose Garces and his family purchased an all-organic 40-acre farm not just as a family getaway; the farm, named for the Garces’s dog and the region’s breathtaking harvest moons, Luna Farms provides freshly grown produce for chef Garces’s east coast restaurants, including Amada, Tinto, and Volver.

4. L’Espalier, Boston, Massachusetts + Apple Street Farm, Essex, Massachusetts.

Apple Street Farm was founded in 2009 by L’Espalier chef McClelland, and its 14 acres serve as the primary source of organic harvests of everything from artichokes to zucchini, free-range poultry and pork, egg-laying hens, honey, and more for L’Espalier. The restaurant is 26 miles away, and chef McClelland is known to hand-deliver just-picked product to his team of chefs.

5. The Mulefoot Gastropub, Imlay, Michigan + Romine Family Farm, Imlay, Michigan.

The Mulefoot’s namesake comes from the heritage breed of pork that is served at the gastropub and raised at their local family farm located about eight miles from the restaurant. Chefs and twin brothers Matt and Mike Romine look after the pigs when they’re not working in the kitchen of their restaurant, but father Joe primarily tends to the heritage hogs, first procured from local Toad Hall Farm in Emmet.

6. PRESS, St. Helena, California + Rudd Farms, St. Helena, California.Continue Reading

Roof to Table: 10 Rooftop Restaurant Gardens

Bachelor-Farmer-RooftopHappy Earth Day! In honor of the 44th year of putting the green back into the globe, we present 10 restaurants with their own rooftop gardens. Diners can savor the super-freshly grown flavor just hours after these hyper-local fruits, vegetables, and herbs were harvested by restaurant staffers. While rooftop gardens cannot provide a restaurant with all of its produce (Yet!), the culinary pros at these restaurants find inspiration from and clever uses for everything they are able to sow.

1. The Bachelor Farmer, Minneapolis, Minnesota

It’s only fitting that a restaurant with farmer in its name have a microfarm on its roof. Located in a lovingly refurbished warehouse, the Bachelor Farmer team grows herbs and hearty greens on their first-of-its-kind Twin Cities rooftop garden. Relying on containers, they use a series of vessels for the plants they nurture, including blue kiddie pools. Serving Nordic cuisine, The Bachelor Farmer carefully sources additional produce from area farms. Its rooftop farm dates back to the restaurant’s opening in 2011.

2. Bastille Cafe & Bar, Seattle, Washington

Bastille restaurant has one of the most successful and copied rooftop gardens in the country. Growing an impressive 12-15% of the produce and herbs served at the eatery in 2,500 square feet of space, Jason Stoneburner shared that they find great success “with various heirloom varieties of radish, carrots, turnips and arugula. These staples grow apace and are easy to cultivate.We do experiment with lesser known greens, veggies and flowers such as spilanthes, shunkyo radish, curry plant, ice plant, anise hyssop and winter density romaine. Just to name a few.” Diners can tour the garden, which was installed in 2009, during the high season by appointment for $10, which includes a tasty Pimms Cup cocktail.

3. Cedar, Washington, D.C.

Atop Cedar in the nation’s capital, chef Aaron McCloud sows a healthy portion of the produce that diners at his ‘field and stream meets urban’ restaurant. He favors herbs, tomatoes, and squash, but he also grows and serves edible flowers, including marigolds. “Marigolds are really pretty, but they have this nice little aromatic bite that I think enhance a salad or a garnish — that works really well,” he said.

4. flour + water, San Francisco, California

As Thomas McNaughton, David White, and David Steele were putting pizza on the map in San Francisco, they were also raising the roof — with a garden. With just 450 square feet, they revealed that they are able to source 5 percent of flour + water’s produce from the garden. There is also a beehive, and the resulting honey finds its way into dishes as well. Sister restaurant Central Kitchen also boasts a rooftop garden, where artichokes, peas, young favas, foraged greens and herbs are grown.

5. Fountain at The Four Seasons, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Even the folks at the swanky Four Seasons aren’t immune to the charms of digging in the dirt. These early-adopters added a rooftop garden in 2009. Eight stories above the city, in nine raised beds, Fountain staffers grow herbs, peas, bok choi, peppers, and more, all of which find their way into the dishes served at the restaurant. The green doesn’t end there, tho’. The Four Seasons also composts 128 tons annually of leftovers (off-site) and uses the end product to fertilize the beds and the grounds of the hotel.

6. Noble Rot, Portland, Oregon

Their website proclaims, “The garden is the soul at Noble Rot in Portland.” Even with that noble and fuzzy statement, though, these horticultural-culinary mad scientists take a rather mercenary approach to their garden. That which does not thrive does not stick around for long. And, as they continue to tinker with what they sow, they do the same with their systems, learning as they grow (or not). A whopping 3,000 square-feet, irrigated by an aquifer beneath the building, the garden provides menu items almost year-round (indicated in capital letters on the Noble Rot menu). There are free garden tours on Tuesdays at 5:00PM.

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