Monday, September 22, 2008
Open just about any food magazine and you'll certainly encounter an article on local foods or 'farm to table'....people who eat locally raised foods even have their own term 'locavores'. Awesome. Does it end there? Just buying stuff at the farmer's market? It could or we could take it one more step.....I'm the guy who doesn't just tippy toe over the line....I jump way over it, so here we go.
Again with the disclaimers....I know there are going to be those of you out there(yes, I'm talking to you Rich) who after reading the first paragraph of this post are fidgeting in your seats wondering if I've gone off the deep end and I'm going to piss off people who buy local foods. I'm not. So, hike up your madras shorts, crack a Natty Boh, (or San Pellegrino if that's what you're into) and check this out.
I source a lot of product locally(I'll work on the 'local' definition later, hold on speedy pants). I spend a ton of time ranting and raving about supporting local agriculture. However, I have noticed that I don't really talk much about what you're going to do with the arm load of food you just bought at the farmer's market (IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY....VISIT THE GETTYSBURG OUTLET CENTER FARMER'S MARKET ON FRIDAY MORNINGS. SHEPPARD MANSION FARMS BEEF. KATHY GLAHN'S PRODUCE. AWESOME 'KNOWFARMS, KNOW FOOD' SHIRTS AND HATS....COME ON, YOU KNOW YOU WANT ONE, ALL THE COOL KIDS ARE WEARING THEM) So, now you have the products in your kitchen. What should you do with them? You can do anything you want. The world is your oyster.
This is what I consider the next step. You could certainly take all the veg. and beef you just bought and make a killer stir fry. No problem, but what I am most interested in as a chef is creating a true expression of the area.
There is a saying 'what grows together, goes together'. Hello, basil and tomatoes. Here's lookin' at you chervil, mint and peas. And my favorite, peanut butter and squid (gotcha. Just wanted to see if you were paying attention or were skimming. Peanut butter and squid. That sounds horrible.)
The French call it Terroir. Travel magazines call it 'Wine Country Cooking' or 'Gulf Coastal Cooking'. Basically, places that have a regional food identity.(I'm talking about an evolution beyond slippery noodle pot pie and Shoo Fly Pie folks...) They take what is grown there and use it to express the area. It can't 100% be reproduced anywhere else but there, because you wouldn't be THERE. That's what I'm talking about. Food grown in a certain area tastes best when it is treated in a manner consistent with the area.
Listen, I grew up in Hanover. Lived in Virginia for some time, cooked at the bottom of the totem pole for 'The Pope of American Cuisine', went to New York, won some awards in Philly and now I'm back. In Hanover. Yes, Hanover. Still listening to everyone tell me that you can't do food 'like that' in a town 'like this'. I am. We are(if you haven't read my post about our staff, please click on 'we')....trying to create that true expression of the land....a feeling of connectedness to who we are and how we live. I can't imagine not having Old Bay seasoning in my flavor memory. Just can't and won't, thank goodness. It's part of how we're wired....
We are lucky to be situated so close to the agricultural know how of Pennsylvania, the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and the rich Southern culture of Virginia. Trying to express that in food is an awesome challenge, but one that I really enjoy.
I'm home. Not 'back home'. Just home. I challenge all of you to find 'home' in your cooking. You'll be really glad you did.
Oh, p.s. .....while you're searching for 'home', come to the Sheppard Mansion and taste the Mid-Atlantic. Tell'em Andy sent ya.