Originally published in Seasonal Guide, April 11, 2014
It’s about community
Peninsula chefs talk farm-to-table
by Ruby Nash
For peninsula area chefs, farm-to-table cooking isn’t a passing fad, it’s a way of life.
“It all comes full circle,” explained Chef Jill Smith, owner at Millbrook Company Restaurant and Bakery in Sedgwick. “We care about the health of our communities and customers, so we try to give them the most locally organically grown foods whenever possible.”
“The closer to home, the better,” agreed Chef Linda Bingham of Millstream Deli, Bakery, and Barbeque in Blue Hill. “We buy from the farmers because we believe in them.”
Right now, it’s all
Local restaurants and their head chefs are looking forward to spring as much as the rest of us are.
“It’s been such a long winter, anything green and growing is great. Fiddleheads. Ramps. I’ll take it,” said Chef Devin Finnigan of Aragosta in Stonington.
Smith at Millbrook has the same things in mind. “I think the most exciting things we’re looking forward to cooking with are the wild edibles: fiddleheads, wild mushrooms, nettles, ramps, and dandelion greens.”
Chef Michele Levesque of El El Frijoles in Sargentville is looking forward to harvesting her own garden. “I’m really excited about our asparagus. We planted it three years ago, and this is the year to harvest. Keep your fingers crossed for me.”
It’s always about freshness
Each chef has a relationship with the farmers from whom they buy their products. “[The farmers] are the nearest, best resource. To buy the same thing from anywhere else doesn’t make sense,” said Levesque.
Some chefs make planting requests of the farmers for specific ingredients, and others do not, but all tailor their menus to fit the produce on hand. Whether it is black beans grown at Horse Power Farm in Penobscot, mesclun greens from Carding Brook Farm in Brooklin, or oysters from Little Island Oyster on the Bagaduce River, the ingredients have a short trip to make from harvest to fork.
Levesque, who has been farm-to-table for nearly a decade, said, “Sometimes planning my menu is a matter of calling and saying, ‘So, Andy, [Andrew Birdsall of Horse Power Farm], what’s growing?”
“Last summer, I had a farmer bring me heirloom tomatoes still warm off the vine,” Bingham recalled. “They were on a salad we served that afternoon.”
For Finnigan, using local foods is a way to speak for the area, and for Maine. “We’re showcasing Maine and Peninsula ingredients in the work we do.”