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.
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.
Vishwatej Nath, Executive Chef, Urban Farmer, Cleveland, Ohio
“The idea of Urban Farmer is about supporting the local farming community. It’s a win-win. We help their economy and it challenges us as chefs to be creative with what’s available for a short period of time. Killbuck Valley Mushrooms in Burbank, Ohio, were only growing shiitakes for us when I got to the restaurant seven months ago, but I wanted them to flex their muscles to see what they could do. Now they also grow lion’s mane and cremini mushrooms. They all go into our foraged mushroom dish (pictured). The mushrooms are simply sautéed along with shallots, whole garlic, and fresh thyme, and then garnished with deep fried shallots. This summer, Rainbow Farms in Madison, Ohio, is growing three kinds of watermelon specifically for us – red, orange, and yellow. They’ll be a part of our fruit platter, go into sorbets, and become the base of a gazpacho. And the Chef’s Garden in Huron, Ohio, planted the micro fern citrus lace for us, which adds an extra taste of lemon juice to our sunchoke soup. In the future, I’d like to leverage all these relationships to do a seasonal banquet menu, which hasn’t been offered in many places yet.” Make a reservation at Urban Farmer.
Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell.