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Connections and a good time at Chef-to-Chef event at Mill City Market

June 15, 2010

The rain held off and we had a great time at the Heartland Food Network’s Chef-to-Chef networking event at the Mill City Farmers Market on Saturday, June 12th. Thanks so much to Aaron Reser and the market staff for hosting! Also thanks to Carol Banks at Edible Twin Cities (their summer edition just came out!) and Jill Grunewald from Minnesota Cooks for co-sponsoring this event.

A few highlights of the conversation and connections that were made:

Amy Rowland, owner of the Bulldog Northeast, came to learn about where she can find local farmers and ingredients. A few years ago the Bullldog Northeast separated from the two other Bulldog locations in town, and built a chef-driven menu of seasonal dishes featuring many local products. Amy and chef Junior source ingredients from a local farms such as Jack and Bean Sprouts, Bushel Boy, Stickney Hill, Eichten’s Cheeses, and Tim Fischer for pork.   They are particularly interested in sourcing local cheeses, grains, produce of all kinds, pork, chicken, milk, honey and other syrups, and wine and beer.

Jenny Breen of GoodLife Catering talked to everyone about some of the sources of local foods for restaurants.  She mentioned that Co-op Partners Warehouse and Southeast Minnesota Food Network are a great starting point – both are local food distributors or aggregators that sell local product from multiple local farmers, so the restaurant just has to make one call. Others include DragSmith Farms, Hidden Stream (which specializes in pork and meat products), and Featherstone Farm.

Some of the general conversation highlights that the chefs mentioned:

  • How long this extremely fresh produce lasts in the cooler, compared with Californian produce. You waste so much less! Lettuces, herbs, cukes, can last 10 days or more, storage crops much longer. You have to consider this into the equation when you are pricing local vs. nationally or internationally sourced goods.
  • Marketing your use of local – use chalkboards, signs, the internet and your menu to list where you get your food. Customers want to know- and they will really respond to seeing the name of the farm.
  • Flavor! Local, sustainable meats and chicken- a HUGE flavor difference. Recent taste tests at the St. Paul Farmers Market have shows that even when prepared the same, people instantly prefer the local, free-range bird
  • Customers are starting to really ask for local! Many of the restaurants in the city that are dedicated to using local food are the ones that are thriving right now

After the discussion, we introduced the chefs to farmers. Amy from Bulldog NE made an instant connection to Laura Frerichs from Loon Organics, and they agreed to start an informal relationship that worked for both of them. Laura drove just over the river to the restaurant after the market and delivered 2 cases of Deer Tounge lettuce, an heirloom variety, for lettuce wraps with pork belly for dinner service. They also sold Amy their  baby bok choi and green butter lettuce.

“A complete win-win”, said Amy. “We can be very flexible. The lettuce was terrific with our pork belly wraps  and salads. We used it all and I wanted more! The texture and flavor was incredible. I am so excited about this relationship. I already asked about adding radishes for next week.”

Laura agreed. “We would have to just give this away to friends or others if we don’t sell it,” she said. “But knowing that Amy will take any leftovers is a great deal for us! We already supply Brenda at Spoonriver and a few other restaurants, but driving and distribution is a challenge. Amy is so close- this really works out.”

Cheryl Kranz, an event planner designing an event for Boston Scientific in August at the Convention Center, was also excited about the connections she made. “We are definitely going to highlight local meats and produce at our event.  Their are so many to choose from!”

If you are a chef or other food service professional interested in learning more about sourcing local food, please join us at the next Chef to Chef networking event:

Tuesday, June 29 2010

Midtown Farmers Market 1:30pm-3:30pm

We will convene at Gandhi Mahal Restaurant (3009 27th Ave S), then move to the Midtown Farmers Market for a tour of the market and introductions to farmers. Stay for a chef demo by chef Ruhel Islam of Gandhi Mahal!

For a PDF of the invitation please click here.

To RSVP or more information please contact Annalisa at ahultberg@mnproject.org, 651-789-3328.

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