Chef Anthony Bourdain, of Kitchen Confidential fame, says you can tell a lot about a restaurant by the trucks that pull up outside its delivery entrance.
Hmmm - probably not hauling "fresh and local"
If the trucks are from reputable vendors of seafood or meat, or are emblazoned with the names of local farms, that’s a good sign. But if the restaurant’s food deliveries are offloaded from “sinister, unmarked vans,” or “those big tractor trailers from national outfits (the ones that say, “Servicing Restaurants and Institutions for Fifty Years”),” that should be a warning flag. “Remember what institutions they’re talking about,” Bourdain cautions, “Cafeterias, schools and prisons.”
It goes without saying that you don’t want your neighborhood chef to get his fish from the same folks that also deliver the restaurant’s cleaning supplies. But dedicated GoLO’ers know that the best chefs hold themselves to a higher standard. They work hard to incorporate fresh, locally sourced ingredients in their cooking–and not just because locally grown food is unquestionably fresher than meat, seafood and produce that has had to travel thousands of miles to reach your plate.
There’s the deeper question of environmental sustainability at work. If your produce or meat or seafood remains a generic, anonymous product that seems simply to come from a warehouse somewhere, it’s easier to overlook the damage that industrial farming, fishing and livestock production have inflicted on our landscapes and oceans. If instead you choose to enjoy food seasonally and with knowledge of its origin and harvest, you can support farmers, growers and fishermen who are acting responsibly, which in turn will help create more sustainable methods of food production.
Fortunately, our GoLO neighborhoods are blessed with standout restaurants like ‘town, Bistro Aix and Orsay that have taken local food sourcing to heart.
"Cooking in Season" class at 'town
Scott Ostrander, Executive Chef of Avondale’s ‘town restaurant, is a New York native who grew up on a farm. He believes in the importance of creating strong relationships with farmers, and has constructed ‘town’s menus around seasonal dishes with ingredients sourced only from local farms and specialty food purveyors. So how does he define local? As Chef Ostrander told the King’s Bay Periscope, “I try to keep it to no more than a two-hour drive. For poultry, pork and beef, you have to veer out a little farther, but for produce I try to stay within about 50 miles.”
Chef Tom Gray, of San Marco’s Bistro Aix, has been a proponent of local, sustainable sourcing since his early career in New York and the Napa Valley. He admits that sourcing products from multiple smaller vendors, many of them local, requires a lot of time and energy, but insists it’s worth it. “Relationships build trust for me with my purveyors and for my guests with me.”
Chef Brian Siebenschuh of Restaurant Orsay adds that there are also economic benefits to eating locally. “Obviously, it’s great to know where your food comes from and use fresh ingredients, but–beyond that–every dollar spent on local, responsibly produced food is a dollar that is not going to industrial food producers.”
So if locally raised and produced food is better tasting, better for the environment, better for local economies, and better for your health, how can the novice locavore find quality local food purveyors that support best practices for the planet?
We’ve asked our great GoLO chefs to share their secret sources and spill the beans about how to make sure you’re buying food that is simple, delicious and sustainable. Here are their recommendations. We urge you to share yours!
JACKSONVILLE LOCAVORE SHOPPING SOURCES
Chef Tom Gray cooks up a dish for the Toyota Farm to Table Tour at RAM
According to Chef Gray, late spring/early summer is a “good season” for locally grown north Florida produce. Showing nicely at this time are field peas, eggplant, the start of good tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, pole beans and peaches. Gray advises that whether you are buying at
the most important thing a consumer needs to do is ask questions. “Ask the vendors, point blank, where their farm is located and if they grew the items they are selling. You must be specific and be willing to ask the questions, otherwise, you might not be getting what you presume to be locally-grown and farm-fresh.”
Chef Ostrander adds a special caution about tomatoes: Refrigerating tomatoes ruins their flavor and, unfortunately, state law requires that all tomatoes sold in Florida grocery stores be refrigerated while transported. He recommends smelling the tomato’s root end; if it smells of hay and the fields, then it’s fresh. No smell? It’s been refrigerated and won’t taste like a tomato should. Chef Ostrander gets his tomatoes from a trusted Jacksonville Farmers Market vendor, Pete Yarbrough (Pete’s Produce stand, 458-6145).
- Twinn Bridges: Environmentally friendly, pesticide-free purveyor of fresh-cut herbs and heirloom vegetables.
- Down to Earth Farms. The owners of this small farm on Jacksonville’s Westside grow a variety of tasty vegetables and also write a charming blog about the challenges of sustainable farming. You can find them most Saturdays at the Riverside Arts Market.
- Sweet Grass Dairy: This sourthern Georgia dairy makes award-winning cheeses from goats and jersey cows. The Asher Bleu, chevre and Camembert-style Green Hill are particularly good.
Meats and Poultry:
- White Oak Pastures: Fifth-generation Georgia farm producing natural grass-fed beef and free range turkeys.
- Black Hog Farm: Located in East Palatka, the Watkins family farm raises Berkshire, Tamworth, and Large Black heritage pigs, as well as chickens and Bourbon Red turkeys. They also offer Farm to Door partnerships through their CSA program, which also includes free-range eggs; memberships are month to month and Fresh Harvest offers delivery right to your door.
When selecting seafood, Chef Gray advises, “Again, ask the questions to ensure you are purchasing local items as the vendors know their sourcing and should be willing to answer any questions you may have. The same goes for restaurants. “Being an inquisitive consumer will help ensure you are getting what you expect. For example, if the chef or server cannot tell you where that particular fish on the menu was sourced, don’t buy it.”
- Fisherman’s Dock: A favorite of both Chef Ostrander and Chef Gray, this local seafood purveyor has two stores, one at 11610 San Jose Blvd, and the other at 730 Park Avenue.
- Seafood Gourmet: Owner Didier Busnot is a former Executive Chef who knows the source of everything he sells; this is also a great place to score terrific homemade fish soups.
- The Shrimp Man: Daniel, who operates this stand next door to Pete’s Produce Stand at the Jacksonville Farmers Market, sells terrific locally caught shrimp that are flash-frozen on his shrimping vessel. The four local shrimp varieties (brown, white, pink and rock) are generally available.
- Blue Budda Exotic Foods: Specialty purveyor of fresh and dried spices and herbs, as well as oils, vinegars and dry goods.
- Green Man Gourmet: This small Avondale shop is a foodie favorite, selling all manner of spices, salts and small-batch food rubs.
A note for Locavore novices: Not sure how to prepare the variety of produce that is sure to show up at your local farmer’s market or in your CSA basket? Sustainable Springfield has teamed up with local chefs who believe in local sourcing for their ingredients, and offers “Cooking in Season” classes at the start of each season to instruct home cooks in how to prepare seasonal offerings.