These days, you don’t have to search far to find restaurants serving farm-to-table fare. And while it makes perfect sense to consume food that is good for our health as well as the health of our community and the environment, it hasn’t always been that way.
Before farm-to-table became a thriving movement in the early 2000s, America had a long love affair with processed food. Frozen entrees and vegetables, canned soup, factory-made bread and other products were staples in grocery stores, and restaurant and home kitchens around the country. These easy-to-heat, ready-to-eat items hit their stride in the 1950s, liberating housewives from hours spent at the stove preparing family meals. But these processed foods not only lacked the flavor and nutrition offered by fresh foods, they contained preservatives and other harmful chemicals. They also separated shoppers and consumers from family farms, which began a slow decline.
Things took a turn in the 1960s and 1970s, with the advent of the back-to-the-land and hippie movements. More specifically, in 1971 Alice Waters’ influential restaurant, Chez Panisse, opened in Berkeley, California, emphasizing ingredients over technique and sourcing ingredients from local farmers. One of the country’s first farm-to-table restaurants—at least in the modern era—Chez Panisse has since added the caveat that its ingredients be organically and sustainably grown. Other early subscribers to the farm-to-table movement include The Herbfarm in Washington and L’Etoile in Madison, Wisconsin.
As the farm-to-table movement spread around the country, more restaurants joined in, realizing the merits of serving regional food made with locally, sustainably and organically grown ingredients. People passionate about local food claim that the farm-to-table movement has helped restore small family farms that provide fresh, flavorful local ingredients, including heirloom fruits and vegetables that had become scarce. These changes also provide pollination places for bees that are disappearing.
Since the early 2000s, farm-to-table dining has grown in leaps and bounds, with restaurants in more than 30 states. On the downside, fast food chains profess to have joined the movement, but their ingredients are hardly local. Even worse, an investigative series in the Tampa Bay Times and the San Diego Tribune reported that numerous restaurants lied about their claims of using “local” and “farm-to-table food,” This has led food experts and professionals to claim that the movement has gone too far and that the term has been diluted of any meaning.
However this gets sorted out, we are lucky in Santa Fe to have restaurant owners and chefs who take the farm-to-table movement seriously. How do you know whether it’s really farm-to-table fare you’re savoring? Well, you’re likely to spot many of these chefs at the farmer’s market purchasing ingredients for that day’s meal. And some restaurants utilize ingredients picked in an on-site garden just outside the kitchen door and on their own nearby farm. Here’s a look at two Santa Fe restaurants who’ve embraced the farm-to-table approach by growing their own ingredients.
Vinaigrette is a salad bistro and, at the height of the season, some 70 percent of the restaurant’s organic produce comes from owner Erin Wade’s10-acre farm in Nambé, north of Santa Fe. In the summer, a spacious greenhouse provides tons of juicy tomatoes and hothouse crops and, in winter, micro-greens, herbs and other winter fare. Order the restaurant’s Eat Your Peas salad and you can bet that the baby lettuce and sweet green peas are fresh from Wade’s farm, tossed in a tart vinaigrette.with bacon shards, mushroom sauté and Asiago cheese The hard-boiled egg in your Cobb Salad likely comes from one of the chickens roaming the farm. The tomatoes and romaine are also farm fresh, a delightful addition to the avocado, roast chicken, bacon and blue cheese with a classic Cobb vinaigrette. The same chicken may have provided the hard-boiled egg in your farm-grown baby spinach and sautéed mushroom salad with red onion and honey balsamic vinaigrette. Eggs can’t get any fresher than that.
Arroyo Vino is famous for its on-site garden, which produces the bulk of the restaurant’s produce during the growing season. That shouldn’t change with Allison Jenkins taking the helm as executive chef in the wake of Colin Shane’s departure. What has changed is the menu, of course, reflecting the new chef’s style and techniques. Look for her dishes to incorporate ingredients from the two-acre garden. The spring menu includes a first course of farm-egg ravioli with wild mushroom duxelles, mascarpone, pine nuts and mushroom dashi; and smoked beef carpaccio, with spring garlic aioli, pickled morels & ramps, mustard seeds and fried capers. Main courses include ramp-ricotta gnocchi with baby turnips, caper brown butter and shaved parmesan; and braised beef short ribs with crushed Yukons, charred onion broth, spring vegetables and horseradish crust. See if you can guess how many items on your plate, as well as the plates of other diners, were freshly picked from the garden the next time you’re there.
This article was posted by Cheryl Fallstead