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Aug 16, 2007 05:03 AM

Advocates of Local/seasonal/organic ingredients

Which chefs and restaurants in the area are advocates of "eating local" and "eating seasonal"? We'll give bonus points for organic, but there's some debate as to whether "organic" shipped a thousand miles or so is really a "win" in the big picture over something fresh and local that's not strictly organic.

In any case, which restaurants exemplify these ideals? Which ones are active in educating their customers about things that are local and in season, but may not be familar - some of those "what the heck is THAT?" veggie, fruit, or herb items that one might find in a good farmers' market, but not in the local supermarket for example.

What triggered the question was my experience in Southern Maryland last weekend, where I ate in two very nice restaurants, neither of which seemed to make any mention or use of the bounty of local seafood and produce surrounding them. A lot of places simply aren't near good sources of produce, meat, or seafood, but Maryland and Virginia ought to be feasting on the local bounty. Are we?

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  1. Equinox...
    Palena...(was just there...GO in August and have the German chocolate cake!)

    Todd Grey is known for his commitment to local, sustainable, and organic produce and often hosts events where he teaches about certain ingredients. There is one coming up with the owner of RSVP Organic Catering.

    1. Restaurant Eve serves local/seasonal items almost exclusively. Don't know if they're as big on organic items as Restaurant Nora, but it definitely tastes better.

      1. Which restaurants did you eat in? I'm from Southern Maryland and would attribute the non-specification of food provenance to the fact that fetishizing food origins is something you find in places farther away from food sources as well as being a function of class.

        1 Reply
        1. re: shellymck

          I was at the Brome Howard Inn and Cafe des Artistes. In each case, the thing that struck me was the seafood choices - Chilean Sea Bass and Vietnamese catfish, both in restaurants where the kitchen is literally walking distance from local waters.
          I don't consider it "fetishizing" to think that something pulled out of the water by local watermen, with a relatively short path to the local kitchen might be fresher, and more supportive of the local community, than something flown halfway around the world.

          An example is Courtney's, down by the tip of Southern Maryland. What Mrs. Courtney is serving in the evening is usually what Mr. Courtney caught that morning. Is it a bad thing to wonder why more places don't also take advantage of sources that are so nearby?

          In the case of produce, it's fact, not "fetish" that many varieties of vegetables are bred specifically for "transportability", not flavor. As an example, most varieties of tomatoes that you see in your local supermarket are specifically bred to ripen simulataneously (for economical picking), have thick, tough skin/flesh (to survive trans-continental shipment), and up until fairly recently, were artificially ripened by gassing them, rather than letting them ripen on the vine. And in breeding for those qualities focused on the transportation process, flavor and texture took a back seat.

          Wanting good, fresh food is not a "class" thing. "Peasants" around the world have been doing it for thousands of years, with the wisdom that often comes of necessity. Many people are just returning to the norm of most of human history, after the brief blip starting back in the 50's for "convenience" food. People are discovering that fresh is often tastier and possibly healthier than trying to adapt freshness to cross-country or intercontinental transport.

          The ecological concerns are a different, and more complicated, argument.

          I'll admit, though, that anything can be taken and used as an advertising slogan or a way to tout "exclusivity" and elitism.

        2. The issue of local is also clouded in a lot of myth. Local product may or may not be a more efficient use of resources. Lamb raised locally but fed on feed and kept in heated barns for part of the year may well use lots more energy over the life cycle of its production than that from Australia or New Zealand. Even when you factor in the shipping.

          There are myriad restuarnts that care about their ingredients a lot and pursue local when in season and aloso worry about sustainability issues. I think Hook does a fine job of this. Cashions is another. There is some Italian joint that does so as well.

          2 Replies
          1. re: deangold

            Good point; the issue of sustainability is important. I talk to farmers at the market about their farming practices and buy from those for whom it is important. Then I find out what restaurants also use their produce, meats, eggs, dairy, and patronize them.

            My system breaks down, however, when it comes to ethnic food. Except for the Lebanese butcher.

            1. re: bacchante

              I really like getting my meat from Lebanese Butcher but haven't asked them about their practices for raising the animals. What do you know about it? Thanks!

          2. Chameleon Cafe makes a point of it.