Monday, December 07, 2009

What is your farmy restaurant really serving you?

This piece by Jane Black really caught my eye, especially in the wake of my attendance at a young farmers conference last week at Stone Barns. She examines a restaurant in the DC area called Founding Farmers and how they are riding the local sustainable gravy train--sometimes making good on their promises, and sometimes not so much so.

It made me think about a fascinating workshop I attended at the conference, one about the relationship between farmer and chef, and led by some of the kitchen staff at Blue Hill at Stone Barns--those cooks who are responsible for purchasing and building relationships with farmers. Let me start by saying that those guys are as real deal as it gets (if you ever accidentally step on a pile of money and decide to make it yours, treat yourself to a meal at Blue Hill at Stone Barns). This is not a post in which I expose them for being fraudulent or farm-washers.

That being said: I think a lot of diners there have misconceptions about the experience. Think all the food is grown there and at their Berkshires farm? Think again. A quick look at the math would help you see that they just can't produce enough food on site to feed all of their diners. As a result they are purchasing from an additional 40 farmers or so, give or take. And the seafood? Do you think there is seafood in Westchester? They are flying it in from Nantucket etc. Also flown in on a regular basis? organic but industrial carrots, onions etc. used to make stock.

I think it's a question of, as a diner, removing blinders from your eyes. Just because you want to believe that the tomato on your burger is local and seasonal (because damn, a tomato slice on a burger is a fine thing indeed), just because you want asparagus risotto in January (a perfect dish when done right, no?) ask yourself: are tomatoes in season around here? Allow yourself to see the truth. Sometimes the restaurant is misleading you and sometimes you are contributing to the deception by misleading yourself.


monty105 said...

so the food is all still seasonable--blue hill wouldn't serve asparagus in january--but it's not necessarily super local. am i getting that right?

stellaforstar said...

Hi Monty105. Almost all of their food is pretty darn local. it depends how widely you define your "foodshed." Nantucket is pretty far from Westchester and requires the FedExing of scallops and the like--which I think would surprise some diners, even if they read a description of it as a "Nantucket Scallop!"

I get the idea that very few things are shipped from CA or Oaxaca but occasionally, yes.