Harvest / Seasonal menus and fresher food
For chefs, sourcing local is worth it
Hummus with laffa bread at The Grange Community Kitchen
Photos by kc kratt
In Western New York and across the United States, the farm-to-table trend shows no signs of waning. Chefs increasingly look to area farms, bakeries, and other providers as they shape their menus. More than anything, chefs say what they are looking for in a relationship with a local provider is flexibility, dependability, and consistent high quality. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt if they deliver.
Brad Rowell, chef/owner, The Grange
In the two years since Brad Rowell opened his restaurant, he says he’s been able to develop the relationships that allow him to make local ingredients a mainstay on his frequently evolving menu.
Different farms, he says, have their own ways of communicating with him, which means just a little bit more effort than one phone call per week to a distributor. One vendor emails Rowell every Saturday with what will be available that Tuesday; another sends him a text every Tuesday listing what can be delivered on Thursday.
One provider, Weiss Farms, located five miles from the restaurant, is even more informal. “In the summer, I drive up to Weiss Farms three or four times per week; I take what we want, weigh everything, and leave a little note in the barn,” Rowell says. The farm bills him later for whatever he picked.
Other local farms often featured at The Grange include Root Down Farm in Clarence and Thorpe’s Organic Family Farm in Wales for produce, and Providence Creek Farm in Clarence for pork.
“Our menu is pretty fluid, so we can do whatever we want and make changes whenever we want,” Rowell says, and, in the summer, that can be as frequently as changing out items every two or three days. “It’s pretty punch and go.”
After long winters of beets and potatoes, Rowell looks forward to featuring ramps in the spring, noting, “It’s always the first item that comes out of the ground every year.” Later in the growing season, his menu relies heavily on local peppers and tomatoes, which are used in the pizzas that are a mainstay at The Grange year round. Another standard that evolves with the seasons is hummus with laffa bread, which is paired with a rotating cast of pickled and roasted local vegetables.
Though making a few extra trips and a few extra phone calls can be a bit of work, Rowell says it’s well worth the effort. “It’s not that much harder and it’s not that much more expensive,” he says. “Some of the local produce is really reasonably priced.”
Jill Gedra, owner, Lait Cru Brasserie
The proprietor of Nickel City Cheese & Mercantile and Lait Cru, both located in Connecticut Street’s Horsefeathers building, Jill Gedra (shown at right) reports that she is less inclined to plan her menu several seasons in advance and more likely to see what’s good as it comes into season and work from there.
“We know what we want, we know what our dish is going to have, and we just reach out to everyone to see if they have what we’re looking for,” Gedra says. She cites “knowledge of product” and “a willingness to work with us” as some of her top needs from local vendors; for example, she explains, might a vendor agree to grow a certain amount of a product if the restaurant agreed to buy it?
Right now, the local vendors Gedra features on her menu include the small urban operation West Side Tilth Farm, where she buys greens, carrots, radishes, beets, and fresh herbs; Flat #12, also located on the West Side, for mushrooms; Stillwater Farm in Boston, New York, for lamb; and cheeses from Reverie Creamery in Chautauqua County.
When asked her favorite way to spotlight seasonal local fare, Gedra says she sells a fruit galette that changes with what’s available: strawberry and rhubarb one season, stone fruit the next, and, soon, apples for fall.
Darian Bryan, executive chef, Prima Oliva Cafe
Ever since this village of Hamburg restaurant opened in February, executive chef Darian Bryan (shown on previous page) has enjoyed working with nearby farmers and other providers. He cites Braymiller Market, where he buys strawberries, corn, and apples; Gabel’s maple syrup, which is sold at the farmer’s market in Hamburg; and Sweet Pea Bakery, located in the same building as the restaurant, for gluten-free bread. He also mentions two products that AC Meat Company of Lakeview makes especially for Primo Olivo: “They make a black pepper bacon people go crazy for.” Bryan uses it in breakfast dishes as well as in the cafe’s Cobb salad. AC also makes a chicken sausage that Bryan uses in a quiche that’s available all day.
Bryan notes that he has started to visit the market in Hamburg on a regular basis to develop relationships with vendors, especially if products are certified organic.
In addition to that organic label, what does he look for in a local vendor? “First, I ask them if they deliver, because that’s a big weight off me,” he says, adding that other major factors are freshness and price.
Satomi Smith, chef and co-owner; and Josh Smith, co-owner, Sato Restaurant Group
As the proprietors of three City of Buffalo restaurants: Sato on Elmwood Avenue, Sato Ramen in University Heights, and Sato Brewpub, downtown, Satomi and Josh Smith have devised different ways of working with local providers as best serves the menus, and even the locations, of the different Satos. Local vegetables, they report, tend to be used more in seasonal specials at the Elmwood location because it’s not far from the Elmwood Village Farmers Market on Bidwell Parkway, and from the delivery route of farms that sell to the nearby Lexington Co-op.
“From a restaurant standpoint, delivery is extremely helpful for us,” Josh Smith says. “Consistency is something where we understand they’re struggling with the climate and that’s why we relegate [local produce] to specials we can change up monthly.” Cost, he says, is less of an issue because they have flexibility in pricing specials accordingly. “And of course, quality,” he adds, noting that is mainly an issue with the meats they consistently feature.
Local providers featured at Sato include Ithaca Soy, Erba Verde Farms in East Aurora, the Burkett Mills in Penn Yann (for buckwheat flour), and Thunder Mountain Foods in Bath and Oles Family Farm for produce. Erba Verde provides chicken parts such as hearts and livers that Sato grills on skewers at the brewpub, which specializes in Japanese-style small plates. The brewpub also features seasonal cocktails with local fruit from LynOaken Farms and Bittner-Singer Orchards and a beer collaboration with Community Beer Works.