July 6, 2011
Farm Fresh Dining Downtown
It’s not uncommon for local chefs to find farmers at their doorsteps. “A lot of farmers just stop by when they have stuff, and we buy off their trucks sometimes,” says Andrew Gregson, the chef de cuisine at Table 16 at 600 S. Elm St.
The personal connections have helped Gregson make interesting finds, such as the Mr. Stripey heirloom tomatoes he purchased last summer. Customers who have dietary restrictions loved the low-acid fruit, he says. “They were pleased I had something like that so they could eat tomatoes in their salad.”
Variety is just one of the reasons that local food sources appeal to chefs in Downtown Greensboro’s fine dining establishments. Many said they were also concerned about the environmental effects of mass-produced items shipped across the globe, the impact on the local economy and — most importantly to their dishes — taste. In fact, when asked why local food sources were important, the first response from many chefs was the quality.
“There is nothing better than homegrown vegetables,” says Robert Pearse, chief cook at Bin 33 at 324 S. Elm St. “There’s absolutely no comparison in the flavor.”
Interest in farm-to-table dining has been growing across the nation, and local chefs say customers are more frequently asking about the sources of the ingredients the restaurants use. In Downtown Greensboro, independent restaurants have led the charge with the help of conduits to local products such as farmers’ markets and direct partnerships with area farmers.
The list of local suppliers is extensive. Chefs say they use eggs from Eggman’s Eggs in Greensboro, grits from Old Mill of Guilford in Oak Ridge, meats from Massey Creek Farms in Madison, poultry from Ashley Farms in Winston- Salem, milks and cheeses from Homeland Creamery in Julian and Goat Lady Dairy in Climax, as well as breads from Simple Kneads Bakery at 227-B S. Elm St., and local vegetables, honey and grass-fed beef from the Downtown Farm Market at 505 N. Greene St.
They also have partnerships with individual farmers. Bin 33 works primarily with a family farm in Rockingham County. Vintage 301 uses produce from independent growers in Troy and Asheboro. Undercurrent Restaurant works with Rudd Farm in Greensboro. And Riva’s Trattoria’s partners include Bettini Farm, a fourth-generation Italian-American farm in Browns Summit.
“I see it as our part in taking back the economy,” says Tracy Lamothe, chef and owner of Riva’s at 257 N. Greene St. “If we purchase ingredients from local people, then we’re supporting our local economy. Plus, small farmers pay more attention to their food because they can do so more easily than the bigger companies.”
The partnerships help farms stay in business, according to Mike Causey of the Downtown Farm Market. The products also show customers “the superior taste and quality of local and organic foods,” he says.
The farm-fresh movement has largely been carried out by local restaurateurs, rather than national chains, because independent eateries are able to change up their lineups more easily.
“Locally owned businesses can create their own menus and purchase fresh local foods and prepare them seasonally, and often buy them at decent prices because there isn’t a large middle market or long transportation costs,” says Anne Marie Gloster, Ph.D., R.D., and lead kitchen educator at the Greensboro Children’s Museum’s Edible Schoolyard.
Having the freedom to revise menus means chefs get to experiment with new flavors and ingredients, while diners get the opportunity to try new things depending on the season.
“Our menu usually changes every two to three months so that we can utilize produce and fish that are in season,” says Michael Harkenreader, chef at Undercurrent Restaurant at 327 Battleground Ave.
“Usually, these ingredients are at the height of quality and flavor. Starting in April, we usually focus more on local suppliers and by June, deliveries from Rudd Farm and trips to the farmers’ markets are very frequent. I often go just to see what inspires me for that day.”
The seasonal menu was most common among the chefs interviewed, though Table 16 adjusts its menu more frequently. The variety is apparently welcomed by customers, who look forward to new dishes.
It can be a challenge for the chefs to find local sources year round to meet all their restaurants’ needs, however. “I get as much as I can, but I’m not totally local. The industry is not ready for that yet,” says Ben Sullivan, chef-owner at Vintage 301 on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Several chefs say they focus on regional sources, but that quantity needs and quality concerns require other options.
For now, the restaurateurs are looking forward to the spring and summer months, which are sure to yield a wide array of flavorful options. Pearse plans to include in Bin 33’s summer menu a North Carolina tomato sampler with a mix of herbs.
“The simple things are the best,” he says. “When you have the best produce cooked properly, you can’t beat it.”
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