For us, September means Farm-to-Chef. Local farms, fresh produce, and a seasonally-inspired menu that marks the transition from summer to fall.
The Connecticut Farm-to-Chef Week is an annual event sponsored by the CT Department of Agriculture that’s designed to showcase Connecticut Grown ingredients. Our group has participated every year since the program began in 2010, but local ingredients have been a part of our business since the beginning. One of our core principals is connecting “Locals with Local Ingredients” so this week gives us a chance to work even more closely with local farms in our area. Although it’s technically a Connecticut-based event, our locations in Springfield, MA, Washington D.C., and Ashburn, VA also choose to participate.
Our company is fully committed to the idea that sourcing locally is not just good for your health; it’s good for the community and for our business. We utilize farm-fresh greens in several of our regular dishes and we use organic, cage-free eggs from farms in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. Our owner, Al even purchased an urban farm in New Britain last year and renamed it Urth Farms Organic. Essentially, we can pick our own organic produce there in the morning and serve it at one of our restaurants for lunch the same day. Many of our locations already use the farm’s greens, squash, tomatoes, and herbs regularly and Farm-to-Chef Week gives us another opportunity to showcase its products.
The wide availability of great local produce and products throughout the state can actually make it difficult to decide what ingredients to utilize. I start brainstorming the menu a few months in advance by reaching out to local farmers to get an idea of the types of produce that will be available in mid-late September. With a total of 9 restaurants in Connecticut, plus Springfield, getting enough of a particular product can be challenging. If the challenge of volume weren’t enough, we have to coordinate with each farmer on those items throughout the summer to ensure both the yield and quality will be there. Inevitably each year the week before the event we’re thrown a curve ball – a drought or too much rain, a cool spring or a hot summer, pests, over harvest, they can all come into play. That’s where the great relationship with the farmer comes in. With communication, a little culinary magic and some R&D, we’ll be back up and running the week of the event with a fantastic array of local products and dishes to offer our guests.
Although fresh produce is a big part of the process, when we’re talking about Locals with Local Ingredients, it’s not limited to just fruits and veggies. We also work with local culinary artisans like Eliza Florian, the owner of Granby’s Grass Roots Creamery. This year we teamed up to create an exclusive Salty Caramel Bacon Brittle Ice Cream flavor to go with the Rustic Apple Tart on the b Restaurants menu. Eliza and I were discussing the upcoming event and what we should create. I thought a caramel or cinnamon ice cream would be too pedestrian and we needed something more unique. She told me that she’s looking at expanding her business with some confectionery items, salted caramels, brittles, etc. As we worked through our ideas, I mentioned bacon, and she thought I was talking about making a brittle with bacon. I said “that’s it!” She said “isn’t this going on an apple pie? Can you do that?” I said – “of course we can- it sounds like exactly something we would do. Let’s make it happen!” The result? Well, the proof is in the ice cream, you’ll just have to try it for yourself.
As we continue to push the envelope with our menu, we’re also expanding our offerings outside of the kitchen. This year, we added a “Farm-to-Bartender” component. Each location came up with a cocktail pairing using farm-fresh local ingredients. The restaurants really got into it, b One Loudoun made their own cranberry-apple cider, b Milford pressed their own organic pear juice and b Fairfield and Butchers & Butchers each made their own house-made Bloody Mary mix.
We’re excited for you to try out all of this year’s Farm-to-Chef selections. And thank you for helping us to support local businesses!
You can see all the full Farm-to-Chef menus here: http://www.burgersbeerbourbon.com/farm-to-chef-week/
For more information about CT Farm-to-Chef Week, visit www.ctfarmtochef.com
About the author:
Kevin Watson is the VP of Business Operations for the Locals 8 Restaurant Group as well as an accomplished Chef with 20 years of culinary experience. A Massachusetts native, he joined Locals 8 in 2015 after working for several big-name restaurant chains throughout the US.