At this point, we are all familiar with the idea of "farm to table" restaurants, bars, menus, dinners and so on. After working pretty closely with a farm over the last month, I wanted share some of my inspirations and ideas on ways that "farm to table" can not only help you, your business, and your community.
About a month ago, I was invited to a local farm to create a cocktail for an annual event where local restaurants and bars are asked to use produce / ingredients from within a 100 mile radius of the farm (and mostly products grown on their farm). To say this was a wonderful experience would be an understatement -- it was INSANE. First of all, it drew an incredible awareness to the wonderful and unique ingredients that are offered at a farm just a few miles down the road. What is really incredible about this are a few things:
- The edge that you can give your menu using SUPER local ingredients.
Ok -- we all know how much patrons love the whole "farm to table" idea. Just the fact that it is local is often times enough to push a menu option from the "Oooh... I don't know..." to the resounding "Yes!" The best part? It's not just for food menus -- give your cocktail menu the same push! You can always go the syrup or infusion route. Many times they will only have a product around for a couple weeks, so make the most of a rare ingredient! Even better -- use it to create a truly seasonal cocktail that might only spend a few weeks on your menu, but your guests will understand and appreciate the exclusivity of it all. There is also, of course, the seemingly obvious route: garnish town. I'd be willing to bet any farm has some berries, edible flowers, cool leaves, and other avant-garde produce you can use to spruce up a cocktail and cause a few head turns. This goes along with my next point...
- Just as you want to try something new, so do a lot of farmers.
You probably wouldn't think about it unless you have an opportunity to look over all of their offerings, but there are a lot of unique items out there. I was in Italy a few months ago and saw a cocktail with a crazy garnish that I had previously never seen. Turns out, this bad boy was a husk cherry (if you've never seen one, check it out) and that this same farm was growing them. Our restaurant now uses them as garnish, and the presentation alone sells the drink. (It also probably doesn't hurt that it's called The Golden Snitch and is served in a goblet... But the inspiration was from that awesome garnish!). Sometimes farmers want to try new things or cultivate a tree / herb / plant for other reasons -- maybe it's a nostalgic fruit tree, or a rare herb that they foraged while traveling. Who knows. All I know is that they are probably willing to sell whatever it produces -- and it's probably awesome.
- Farmers know A LOT about their herbs and plants.
This might seem like a "der" statement, but think about it... We know a lot about our products, where they came from, their key components / ingredients, etc. They know growing seasons better than anyone, but they can also give you tasting profiles and insights on the different parts of the plant. HOW COOL IS THAT? As a self-proclaimed bitters nerd, talking to a greenhouse manager about the difference in sweetness of new vs. older leaves of a peach tree (and tasting them) was mind blowing. You will find yourself newly inspired - as if your repertoire of bar ingredients has just multiplied - because it has. You can use SO much of a plant -- not just the obvious parts -- and they can tell you how and why.
- Your business is supporting another business.
Another obvious statement, but it's so true. Creating close relationships with farms is so cool -- not only do you get to truly know the quality of your ingredients, you know that the money you are spending is going to an incredibly worthwhile cause. You can also help one another out with inventory. Perhaps they have a lot of basil and they need to move it. Perhaps you need a gin cocktail on your menu and they've got some crazy herb you've been reading about and want to try out. It really is a beautiful thing.
So what can you do and how can you get more involved with local farms? For starters, just reach out. As USBG members, you can throw together a philanthropic event and volunteer at a local farm. We are in the planning stages of this in Chattanooga as well. Farms could always use some extra help, and I'd be willing to bet your local farms would jump at the opportunity to have a bunch of bartenders (who have a vested interest in their product) volunteer and work with them. You can also check out your city's CSA programs and see if they are willing to sell to your restaurant / bar. Lastly, just take a tour of some farms. See what they have to offer. If it excites you, talk to them. I'm sure they would be more than happy to work with you, just as you will be to work with them.