Archive for the ‘Farm-to-Table’ Category
There’s a lot I love about the Midwest, but mostly it’s the people. And summer. Despite the worst drought on record raging through much of the lower and mid-region corn belts, you wouldn’t notice it at first glance in and around the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul
Out here in support of the Twin Cities Public Television debut of Food Forward, all I can see is lush green grass surrounding smaller suburbs and rural enclaves as I make my way down the Mississippi river valley and over to La Farge, Wisconsin, headquarters for our founding sponsor, Organic Valley.
After meeting up with the team in the main offices, we head through Amish country and over to Spring Green, WI for a picnic dinner and to see Shakespeare’s Richard III. Afterwards, I’m invited to stay at ‘The Kettle’ for a restful night of sleep below a bright and shiny milky way, deep in the back woods of rural Wisconsin and I’m reminded of how lucky and thankful I am to have these opportunities.
Back to civilization and its straight to the St. Paul farmers market in search of food rebels. Amidst a sudden mid-summer downpour we amble through the aisles and met up with several local pioneers, including Mary Falk of Love Tree farmstead selling her artisan sheep milk cheeses and Dean Schwake of Big Woods Bison, offering low fat, high protein meat.
Then it was across the street to meet with Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant and Farm Direct Market. Lenny is a true visionary focused on supporting small-scale and local family farms. We spent a good day of filming with Lenny and look forward to sharing more about his operation soon.
Finally, I watched the airing of Food Forward yesterday at legendary local hot spot, The 1029 Bar in Northeastern Minneapolis.
At this popular Sunday sports bar, we were able to coerce our lovely waitress into switching two monitors from the British Open to our episode on urban agriculture, sans sound. Sure, I’ve seen it literally hundreds of times now, but to watch it far from home, with just the crisp high definition picture, amidst an amazing display of really good food from the Smack Shack with none other than local host Doug Utter, was a real treat. Even though they are nationally known for their lobster rolls, it was the roasted leg of lamb sandwich with harissa, saffron aioli and fennel seed slaw that I’ll remember and will come back for again. Out of site, really.
Place and Excellence–that is what Jay Porter, owner and operator of two farm-to-table restaurants in San Diego, believes that his restaurants are about. In 2004, Jay wanted to do something interesting with his life. He felt that his neighborhood was seriously lacking places where people could go to get well-prepared, thoughtful food and drink. So, he opened up his his own restaurant, The Linkery, one of the first restaurants in San Diego to source locally and seasonally on such a large scale. About two years ago, he opened his second farm-to-table restaurant, El Take it Easy. Anybody who has eaten at either of these places can tell you that you will always be surprised when you catch a glimpse of the menu. You can find items like pork belly and chicken skin tacos, bacon-wrapped Octopus, fries with smoked liver on top, and you can pretty much put bacon on anything. But don’t let these dishes scare you away–there is some real thought that goes behind these crazy concoctions.
During my interview/lunch with Jay Porter at his restaurant, he explained the theory behind his restaurants while he jumped up every five minutes to DJ some thoughtful tunes for the lunch crowd. When asked why he thought it was so important to source locally and to know his farmers, Jay responded, “The depth of experience that you can have is just so much greater.” He feels that many people in the contemporary U.S. are very placeless- not many people are really able to connect to where they are from and they can no longer find solid roots in their communities. Jay attempts to address this problem through meaningful cuisine that incorporates both the physical and the cultural landscape of where we live. In order to operate in both of those landscapes here in San Diego, our very close neighbor must be included: Mexico. Local food in San Diego is influenced by what people grow both on the San Diego side and the Mexican side of the border. “We have so many different landscapes, it is important to meaningfully incorporate all of them,” said Jay in between bites of his locally-grown salad.
As a restaurant owner, Jay confessed that although he had dabbled in food activism, he realized that the most important thing for his restaurants to do is to build a market for better-quality, local food. They must work with the farmers to grow their farms, and explore alternative ways of operating in order to ensure this restaurant’s model is successful. Jay Porter, along with many other farm-to-table restaurants, doesn’t want to sell commodities. He wants to forge a connection with his community by not selling commodities, and therefore bringing them something new and different. Although he acknowledges that this massive shift in food culture/mindset is really only prevalent in certain big cities, and outside of them the shift is rather incremental, he states, “I want to help people have great experiences involving thoughtfully-sourced and thoughtfully-grown food.” In the long run, these are the kinds of businesses that will renew people’s love for food and the place they live.