I am sure you have seen menus laden with citations, bibliographies, indexes, appendixes if you will, all in an attempt to give credit to the farms that inspire our ever changing menus. I have went from listing my farms after each dish, a tallied list at the end of my menu under the name of producers to most recently coining them contributors. I am here to tell my fellow chefs out there that a name without a face leaves one wondering who “who are these people”. Have you met them? Do you haggle the crap out of them to get your profit margins just right while leaving the farmer with change to pay for the rising costs of feed, waste management, oil for machinery and fees for organic certifications and FDA stickers? The tag line for the Windham farm and food network is, Make the connection. Buy local. Know your farmer. I DIG IT! And, this by far sums up our responsibility as food producers, educators, chefs and consumers to truly become sustainable.
So when you hear advertisements of an aluminum foil wrapped 2 pound burrito slinging establishment waving the we are committed to local blah blah blah card, don’t believe the hype! Trust me on this, they are duping you! Does this sicken anyone else? Are companies really taking advantage of consumers who want to eat responsibly? Of course they are and I would expect this type of exploitation from these no scruple having corps. But when chefs irresponsibly floss the “local” card with absolutely no intention of contributing to the ever so important food awareness and sustainability movement, it saddens me. It actually ticks me off a bit. This exploitation is of course is the hottest marketing trend and restaraunteurs and Chefs are sucking it right up. What are the main issues with the food system? There is no way I can fully answer this rhetorical question in my measly little quick read posts, so watch a documentary or read the omnivores dilemma. Or for first hand experience with our food system issues you could; support your child’s soy, salt, sugar and corn addiction and send them to the school cafeteria, take a drive through a food dessert, grab a five pound “Bryson” all natural chicken breast at your local grocery, purchase a pseudo organic product from “Mole Foods”, plant a garden using new and improved GMO”Franken-Seeds” or try to get sold on buying pre-fabricated microwaveable foods while learning to cook fabulously food via the “Fooey Network”.
Remember, the “stand up guy” card is an easy one to throw down. What’s not easy is backing it up. It takes commitment, true passion and in my case a lot of trial and error. I for one was extremely apprehensive about butchering. So I would request from my farmers certain cuts of meat. Now of course I see butchering as one of the most important pieces to running a TRUE
Farm to table restaurant that truly sustains the farming community. My initial willy nilly hatchet man cuts of meat were almost as embarrassing as me taking forty plus minutes splitting an underwhelming amount of wood, or wearing kitchen clogs to a farm in mud season. (I won’t even get into my countless homesteading blunders).
The small meat producers (not talking meat factories here) biggest problem is of course the food system. It is set up to leave an enormous amount of not so popular cuts of meat. This is what it breaks down to: two of each of the following; rib loins, strip loins, tenderloin and sirloin. Not to mention, of course, the ever popular beef hanger steak. This cut of meat could feed maybe twelve people. Thats right, twelve people from 1000 pounds! We chase after trendy cuts to keep a consistent menu and remain relevant in todays ever-changing landscape of foodie satisfaction. Totally un-sustainable. If you have some rump in your kitchen, some people may get try tips, (again maybe 10 servings out of the whole steer), and of course some short ribs, and a few other cuts of interest. But the fact remains that out of a steer that weighs in at 1000 plus pounds, the majority is left as un favorable cuts of beef to the consumer after all the highly preferred ones are swooped up by Chefs that don’t want to do the work of making as many menu items as possible out of the whole animal. And this is happening across the country at self-proclaimed sustainable/Farm to table restaurants. Again, pretty un-sustainable. This lack of commitment from chefs and in some cases lack of support from money hungry owners leaves the farmer making sub-par sausage (in most cases) to sell at farmers markets and many a compromise from chefs (use your imagination here). Don’t believe me? Ask a farmer. I am finding them to be some of the coolest people around!
It is super beneficial to both parties involved in the whole animal purchase. Number one. When a farmer has a bunch of leftover meat for grind and unfavorable cuts sitting in their deep freezer (if they have one), this makes the price of a 100% grass-fed prime cut on average 4 dollars more per pound and of course this gets passed on to the consumer which then keeps only the well to do partaking in the joys of true all natural eats. And adds to the notion that some have (I’m on the fence) about the totally clueless foodie elitists out there zipping around in their Priuses. Which still have 7 gallons of oil in each tire, the body of the car is made of oil and they are shipped here on tankers using a bunch of oil and are shipped on semis using crazy amounts of oil and…and… and…. Where are our post oil solutions? This charade and bamboozlement adds nothing to sustainability movement either.
The local movement does not end at just having local food. It doesn’t even start at it. Making the connection is the key component. At least that is what the Windham Farm and Food network believes and I for one am all about it. Don’t know how to say this without saying it so…. I WAS GIVEN AN AWARD! And no it’s not the James Beared or a Rising Star Award or anything like that. Trust me. Not taking anything away from the insanely talented chefs who totally deserve the recognition especially all the great chefs in C-town who get slighted every year. But any way… Mine is the highly touted Farm and Food Chef All-stars award! When Hanz Estrin (he runs the organization) called me up and informed me I was a recipient, I couldn’t wait to put it on my fridge! I even took a picture of it to share with you guys.
One last thought. And I want you guys to help me on this one. As I said earlier, I give credit to my farmers on my menu. Is this necessary as a Chef? Shouldn’t a diner spending hard-earned loot EXPECT the best? And we all know there is NOTHING better than an in season heirloom tomato or an over wintered parsnip! I’m leaning towards the belief that if I run my kitchen with integrity, I will get the respect of the farmer. That farmer/producer will then tell a customer of theirs they can get the goods at my establishment. Once this cycle repeats itself amongst the community enough times, my kitchen would be recognized as a stalwart operation with integrity and commitment to as many farms it takes to sustain my establishment. What do you guys think? I would love to hear from you!
For more information on the Windham Farm and Food Network supported by the UVM extension Click here! I can attest to its successes (and ease of use) and it continues to make my life easier as a chef striving to support my farming neighbors.