Taking a rare peek into what really goes into creating the fresh, local ingredients your waiter rattles off when explaining that day's specials.
This summer Dan Kluger, chef at ABC Kitchen (this year's James Beard Foundation Award winner for Best New Restaurant), accompanied several food writers on a road trip to New York's Hudson Valley to tour some of the farms (and one distillery!) that supply Manhattan's hottest restaurants, including his own. I was lucky enough to join—and it was not just a great day, but a rare peek into what really goes into creating the local ingredients your waiter rattles off when he tells you the day's specials.
"We buy a lot from Paffenroth Gardens and Windfall Farms and we get pretty much all of our goat cheeses from Lynnhaven," says Kluger about three of the stops on the trip, which was sponsored by James Beard Foundation partner Mercedes-Benz. "On this tour I wanted to hit places that were interesting and different and you could see their stories and how passionate they are about their product."
And that was what was really struck me during the trip: the immense pride that everyone had for whatever they specialized in—and how important it is for diners to support these family-run ventures. At Paffenroth, owner and farmer Alex Paffenroth showed us his gorgeous produce—beets, carrots, onions and leeks—and how the quality of the black soil on his property is key to producing vegetables with the best flavor. At Windfall Farms, the biggest attraction—aside from the friendly piggies—was a huge greenhouse containing dozens of varieties of delicious-looking microgreens. Tuthilltown Spirits—which makes cult favorite Hudson Baby Bourbon—uses grain harvested from farmers less than 10 miles away. Tantillos Farms is known for their apples, sour cherries, and on this particular day was bursting with fresh, sweet peaches. And Lynnhaven Dairy Goats boasted not only prize-winning goats, but incredibly creamy, flavorful goat cheeses.
Which all makes for amazing, locally raised product that New York City restaurants can serve with pride. And good thing too: though most of the farms sell to the public at the Union Square Greenmarket, they say the bulk of their business comes from city eateries. "The philosophy of ABC Kitchen is really about local, seasonal and organic food," says Kluger. "And we use organic loosely in the sense that it represents the interest of the people who care as much about the product and the land as well."
How important is it for your food to be locally sourced? Does it affect your vendor choices as a restaurateur? Does it affect your restaurant choices as a diner?
CLARISSA CRUZ is the Fashion Features Editor of O, The Oprah Magazine. She is the former Style Editor of People magazine and has written for Entertainment Weekly, InStyle, Food & Wine, and Budget Travel. @clarissanyc1