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Great Connections, Discussion, and Fresh Local Food at Midtown Chef-to-Chef Event!

June 30, 2010

Gandhi Mahal, 3009 27th Ave. S, Minneapolis

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon at the Midtown Farmers Market for HFN’s June 29th Chef-to-Chef workshop. More than a dozen chefs, schools, and local leaders from non-profit organizations serving farmers took part in a fun and constructive discussion over a delicious buffet lunch at Gandhi Mahal. The restaurant’s owner, Ruhel Islam, buys the majority of his produce in season from local growers at the Midtown Farmers Market as well as growing his own herbs, beans, and even squash in planters around the building.

Ruhel Islam, owner of Gandhi Mahal, in his garden

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

  • The demand is skyrocketing- all chefs in attendance said customers were asking them for local products. When they made an effort to tell the customers where the product came from, they loved it.
  • Keep you menus flexible– just list a “farmers market stir fry” or “seasonal side dish” or vegetable, and you can vary it to the seasonal availability.
  • Purchasing products from farmers in both northern and southern parts of the state can provide more diverse goods and can also stretch the time that chefs/food service professionals can purchase local produce. Note: Proteins are available year-round!
  • Summer is a good time to play with different local ingredients because they are so readily available and restaurants are often less busy due to the large number of people that go out of town. Try just going to the farmers market- farmers will most likely cut you a deal for buying in bulk.
  • Cost can be an issue when purchasing food from local farmers, but doing in-house canning, freezing, making stocks, jams and compotes can really save a lot of money. For example, Tommy Begnaud, Executive Chef  at Town Talk Diner said that he received 12 – 15 cases of heirloom tomatoes per month last summer and did in-house canning in order to continue to be able to use the tomatoes after the growing season.

Guests listen as Chef Islam talks about his use of local food

“Consumers are looking for local food. Our readers want the names of restaurants using local food- it is my most asked question,” said Carol Banks of Edible Twin Cities.

Ann Holt of Campus Club agreed that demand for local food is growing in the Twin Cities and said that when she puts a sign up saying “garden fresh asparagus, picked this morning”, every least stalk is purchased.  If consumers know what farms a restaurant is buying from, if they hear the stories about an ingredient’s journey  from farm to plate, they will want that food.

This was apparent when the room was listening with pleasure to Tommy Begnaud as he explained that he gets his herbs from a Minneapolis man who lives right down the street and delivers his herbs to Town Talk Diner on his bicycle. This tidbit of information about the origin of the herbs was interesting and adds value to the meals prepared with these local ingredients.

Farmers talking to event attendees at the Midtown Farmers Market

After lunch we moved to the Midtown Farmers Market to talk with farmers who would be interested in selling to chefs. Many Hmong farmers from suburbs such as Lakeville, Cannon Falls, and Hastings met with workshop attendees as a group and told about their farms, what they grow, and their desire to sell into new markets.  Farmers from Laughing Stalk Farmstead, Painted Hill Farm, and eQuality Farms all met with the group to share information about their businesses.

Many of the farmers said that they did not use chemicals, and were very interested in selling to restaurants or schools. Chefs and farmers chatted and made connections and talked through potential delivery or pick-up scenarios.

Thanks to Amy Berehns and the Midtown Farmers Market crew for hosting us.

Thank you to Hli Xyooj of Farmers’ Legal Action Group for translating and helping Hmong growers,  and Carol Banks of Edible Twin Cities, Jill Grunewald of Food Alliance Midwest and Minnesota Cooks, and  Susan Stokes, Executive Director of Farmers’ Legal Action Group for co-sponsoring these events.

Midtown Event Attendees:

Amanda Balagur, Localicious Radio

Carol Banks, Edible Twin Cities

Tommy Begnaud, Town Talk Diner

Jill Grunewald, Minnesota Cooks, Food Alliance Midwest

Ann Holt, The Campus Club

Ruhel Islam, Gandhi Mahal

Deb LaBounty, Richfield Public Schools

Rachel Rubin, Chef, Caterer

Gina Schmidt, Edible Twin Cities

Brian Stansberry, Augsburg College

Susan Stokes, Farmers’ Legal Action Group

Daniel Swenson-Klatt, Butter Bakery Cafe

Erin Swenson-Klatt, Butter Bakery Cafe

Hli Xyooj, Farmers’ Legal Action Group

Join us for our next Chef-to-Chef Workshop at the St. Paul Farmers Market on Sunday, July 11th. We will meet at 9:00am at Golden’s Deli featuring guest chef Jim Golden. We will then take a tour of the market and meet farmers there. Come and make connections with local food advocates and meet local farmers!  See the PDF invitation here. To RSVP, email Annalisa at

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