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Advocates of Local/seasonal/organic ingredients

w
Warthog Aug 16, 2007 05:03 AM

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?

  1. j
    Jeserf Aug 16, 2007 05:48 AM

    Equinox...
    Nora's...
    Palena...(was just there...GO in August and have the German chocolate cake!)
    Hook...

    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. monkeyrotica Aug 16, 2007 05:49 AM

      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. s
        shellymck Aug 16, 2007 05:58 AM

        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
          w
          Warthog Aug 16, 2007 07:18 AM

          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. d
          deangold Aug 16, 2007 06:03 AM

          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
            b
            bacchante Aug 16, 2007 07:32 AM

            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
              s
              sam21479 Aug 16, 2007 09:25 AM

              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. JonParker Aug 16, 2007 07:22 AM

            Chameleon Cafe makes a point of it.

            1. pattiat600block Aug 16, 2007 08:27 AM

              When True opened in Fells Point (Baltimore), there was a big to-do about them being both organic and local. The ingredients do seem extremely fresh; too bad the execution wasn't so great when I went there recently...

              1. p
                pigtowner Aug 16, 2007 09:02 AM

                I've sort of recently come on board to all this eating local/seasonal/organic thing and I find it harder and harder to eat out in Baltimore. It's just so weird that the "veggie of the day" is asparagus, since so sadly, the asparagus season has been over for at least a month now. Short of cooking everything myself from the farmer's market, it doesn't seem like we have all that many options in Baltimore.

                It's also become extremely weird to me to see everyone not from Baltimore asking what are the "best seafood" restaurants in Baltimore, since it's pretty clear to me, that most, if not all, the seafood at these restaurants is from nowhere local.

                1 Reply
                1. re: pigtowner
                  pattiat600block Aug 17, 2007 06:54 AM

                  Well I know when it comes to crabs at least, the Chesapeake doesn't have enough to sustain even one restaurant when it's a big player like Phillips. Maybe out-of-towners don't know this, but would they be able to tell the difference? I imagine Baltimore's "best seafood" restaurants' appeal is in their experience and know-how, and regional preparations - where else do you find Old Bay on top of everything?

                2. d
                  Denise Aug 16, 2007 07:36 PM

                  I had lunch today at the Oregon Grille in Hunt Valley, MD, and the waiter touted - and I had - the day's specials: soft shell crab (I assume local and in season) over julienne cut zucchini (local, in season) and the curried zuccini soup (likewise).

                  Waiters at Tersiquel's in Elliott City, MD mention the vegetables being harvested from Fernand's garden.

                  1. j
                    Jeserf Aug 17, 2007 03:58 AM

                    I was just checking out the Firefly menu and they list where many of the ingredients are from.

                    1. r
                      ral217 Aug 19, 2007 07:27 PM

                      vidalia mentions local ingredients as well. black salt too.

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