Part 2 of 7: The Sustainability Trend Continues
It’s not easy to keep hundreds of spectators on the edge of their seats while discussing carrot jerky. But those in attendance at the 8th Annual International Chefs Congress (ICC) (http://www.starchefs.com/cook/events/icc/2013) held in late September in NYC were not your ordinary audience. In a large test kitchen on the forum’s “Main Stage,” Chef Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn (http://ateliercrenn.com/) (San Francisco, CA) demonstrated her love for local, seasonal ingredients as she explained the intricate process of curing the root vegetable. Because, after all, "vegetable is king of the dish."
The Congress proved the farm-to-table movement and focus on micro-regionalism continue to be important components in how chefs create menu items and select ingredients. Many chefs noted an intense affinity towards artisanal, seasonal products as well as the importance of strong relationships with small growers and farmers.
Chef and Farmer
Such was the motivation behind Chef Vivian Howard and the opening of her restaurant, Chef and the Farmer (http://chefandthefarmer.com/) (Kingston, NC). She was so inspired by the focus on sustainability, she moved from New York City to her home state of North Carolina to revitalize Kingston’s farm community and reinvigorate local appetites with her artisanal spin on traditional Southern staples.
And at April Bloomfield’s trio of restaurants: The Spotted Pig (http://thespottedpig.com/), The Breslin (http://thebreslin.com/), and The John Dory Oyster Bar (http://thejohndory.com/) (all located in NYC), emphasis has always been on what’s local. “We like to have a relationship with the products we’re working with,” explains Christina Lecki, head chef of The Breslin during an ICC demonstration that centered on de-boning and filleting a 30-pound striped bass that had been caught off the coast of Long Island. “The smaller the purveyor, the better. Having as much information about our products is part of our standards,” she emphasizes.
This trend transcends beyond traditional entrées to desserts and yes, even cocktails. Dale Degroff of KingCocktail.com (http://www.kingcocktail.com/) sent out avocado—currently in season—and tequila shots during his demonstration. Janice Wong, of 2am:Dessert Bar (http://www.2amdessertbar.com/) in Singapore, says she was so inspired after visiting Japanese farmers producing miso, she wanted to use the traditionally savory ingredient in her desserts, blending it with caramel.
Preserving the Seasons
Chefs are currently being tantalized by fall's flavors. Johnny Iuzzini of Sugar Fuel Inc. (http://johnnyiuzzini.com/) says he’s all about Concord grapes. Others echoed his grape obsession with Justin Walker of Earth at Hidden Pond (http://www.earthathiddenpond.com/) (Kennebunkport, ME) noting that he's currently experimenting with the wild variety.
Sustainability has become so important to chefs, they're turning to pickling and fermenting techniques to extend the flavors of seasons past. This "preservation movement" helps chefs "look back at summer's ingredients without sacrificing freshness or quality," says Chef David Santos of Louro (http://www.louronyc.com/) (NYC). He is currently working on his own version of umeboshi—Japanese pickled fruit—using apricots, peaches and cherries.
Bryan Voltaggio (http://www.bryanvoltaggio.com/), Top Chef and Top Chef Masters competitor, says seasonality and extending the life of farm fresh vegetables by fermenting them “is better for you because there’s great taste, and it lasts longer.” He’s presently offering fermented turnips and cabbage on his restaurant menus. “Once I fall in love with a dish, I’ll want to put it everywhere so everyone gets to try it,” he says. “The idea is to pack a whole lot of flavor with simple ingredients.”