Restaurants are closing the gap between farm and table

by Courtnee James

Urban cultivator in the kitchen

Each year the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) What’s Hot Culinary Forecast predicts food and menu trends for the coming year. In the most recent survey, “hyper-local” sourcing, such as restaurant gardens, claimed the number one spot as the hottest culinary concept trend for 2018. We spoke with a few restaurateurs to see what all the buzz is about.

“It feels good to be able to tell our customers that we know exactly what they are eating,” says ACF member chef Brandon LaVielle, and co-owner of Lavish Roots, a catering company based in Washington. LaVielle’s catering company doesn’t yet have the space to house an on-site garden, so his team sources micro greens from a local farmer.

Lavish Roots’ relationship with their micro greens farmer is what embodies the farm-to-table movement: restaurants having a close relationship with the grower of harvests served within their establishments. This type of business model works both ways. It allows restaurants to use the idea of local sourcing in promotion and it helps attract patrons looking for fresh ingredients.

“Some people are calling it a trend, I think it’s a sign of the times changing with people eating healthier,” says LaVielle. “It’s important that we know what we’re getting — what we’re putting in our bodies and our clients’ bodies.”

Some restaurants are taking things even further and adopting hyper-local gardening to not only provide their customers with fresh ingredients but to also reduce their carbon footprint. Take The Perennial in San Francisco, for example. The restaurant features an aquaponic greenhouse where food scraps are fed to worms and larvae that are in turn fed to fish that then fertilize the vegetables used at the restaurant. (Take a breath, that was a lot.) Owner Anthony Myint says it’s all about combating climate change, eating responsibly grown food, and recycling. “You can’t get fresher [ingredients],” he says.

Myint says they harvest about once or twice a week but oftentimes they just snip a bunch of herbs and greens right before dinner service. While it’s sustainable to be able to include fresh ingredients, Myint agrees that it takes quite a bit of extra work.

Chef Neil Ferguson of American Seasons in Nantucket, Massachusetts enjoys the extra work. “I find gardening to be very zen-like and calming,” he says. “It’s also very inspirational. As you see things come into fruition, you can add them to your menu.”

Read the full story in the Summer 2018 edition of Sizzle, ACF’s digital publication for culinary students.

Courtnee James is a writer and editor based in Jacksonville, Florida.