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The Other Side of Farm to Table


We have finally come through one of the harshest winters in quite some time but to our wonder some were still talking farm to table, even in the dead of winter in the Northeast. How? Well first there is more than one way to eat a vegetable or fruit and second there is more than one kind of farm. We don’t have to tell you that right?

If you’re going to “let the season dictate” as Chef Matt Malloy (New England) is fond of saying then creativity will have to be your guide, that and the heritage dishes of our past. You will live in the world of specials and provide lists of ingredients instead of menus. One of those specials Chef Malloy likes is “pork complimented by pickled radish, green apples and sauerkraut made with cabbage from local farms.” He admits to “making the most out of what’s available within certain cost constraints.” Farm to table often becomes nose to tail.

Think harvest and heritage preserves. Think pickling. Think chicken and eggs. These are the winter foods of by gone times but they don’t have to remain in the past. New combinations of ingredients make for more interesting canning and preserving. Ask Sean Brock (Mid Atlantic and Southern), he will pickle or preserve almost anything. The trick is to combine a preserved item with something really fresh. Think pickled vegetables with creamy goat cheese and fresh baked rolls or breads.

Consider friends of the farmers like Farm to Table Co-Packers in Kingston New York. They are a Mid-Hudson Valley New York success story from both partner’s experience in the production of local food. Jim Hyland’s first venture, Winter Sun Farms, worked with local farms to produce frozen local vegetables and fruit that is distributed to members during the winter months. Luc Roels, who has several years of contract packing experience, is the owner of Pika’s Farm Table which produces a line of frozen soups, quiches, and appetizers using local produce. “We found that there was no infrastructure for us to produce local foods on any kind of production level,” said Hyland. From this dilemma, Farm to Table was born. In addition to producing Winter Sun Farms and Pika’s Farm Table products, Farm to Table works with local farms to create new products and find more ways for them to get their products onto shelves and tables.
“Farm to Table Co-Packers is a small business that is making significant contributions to the sustainability of agriculture in the Mid-Hudson region,” said Mid-Hudson Regional Director Susan Jaffe. “It is creating exciting value added products and extending the growing season for many local farmers.”

Their products include shelf stable, frozen, and Chef ready products. You may also want to consider their test kitchen facilities and services.

The epitome is always going to be what most Chefs can only dream of but Blue Hill Restaurant has, it’s not only thinking farm to table it’s thinking whole farm to table. Co-Owner and Executive Chef Dan Barber’s for-profit restaurant (one of them) is located on the grounds of the not-for-profit Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture so he has his pick of the crop, literally. You would think this might give him an unfair advantage but he is an advocate for, well, let him explain it:

Perhaps the problem with the farm-to-table movement is implicit in its name. Imagining the food chain as a field on one end and a plate of food at the other is not only reductive, it also puts us in the position of end users. It’s a passive system — a grocery-aisle mentality — when really, as cooks and eaters, we need to engage in the nuts and bolts of true agricultural sustainability. Flavor can be our guide to reshaping our diets, and our landscapes, from the ground up.

So while farm to table is a good start, if Chef Barber has anything to do with it the season will no longer matter, heritage and the land will be returned to the farmers, the chefs and the eaters. As if food production weren’t enough of a cause, read here to see how Chef Barber and several other prominent chefs intend to tackle food waste.

We are on the verge of Hudson Valley Restaurant Week and we hope that you will show your support for those wonderfully creative chefs as they usher in Spring. We know FlashPepper will and as always we welcome your thoughts and comments.

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