Valerie Phillips: Restaurants are returning to the farm

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 30 2011 4:34 p.m. MDT

What was once a necessity has become a trendy luxury.

"Farm to table" is a popular catchphrase in today's fine dining. But it's actually the way that many of our grandparents or great-grandparents ate in their day.

Rural folk ate fruits and vegetables in season, because that's what was growing in their back yard. They didn't run to the grocery store every time they had an urge for grapes or asparagus. Even non-farmers often raised a few hens in their back yard to provide eggs and occasional chicken dinners. Those who had cows or pigs used as much of the animal as possible. You couldn't buy cellophane-wrapped packages of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, or ready-cooked strips of bacon.

Now the culinary world is moving back to the concept of "knowing where your food comes from." Chefs are developing "relationships" with local producers and food artisans. Farmers are no longer anonymous suppliers but are gaining brand recognition in the same way that people think of Nike or Apple: Copper Moose Farms, High Star Farm, Bell Organic Gardens and so on. Menus proudly list items such as Morgan Valley lamb, Pleasant Creek Ranch beef, Colosimo sausage or Beehive cheddar cheese, which all come from right here in Utah.

The Farm Restaurant, located at Canyons Resort, is one of Utah's latest restaurants riding on the "farm to table" trend. Opened in February, its menu boasts seasonal ingredients sourced mainly from farms within 200 miles of Park City. Chef Steven Musolf said that he's able to use about 85 percent local ingredients during spring and summer.

"But with Utah's growing season, it's a big challenge during fall and winter months," Musolf said. "I think I'm going to be doing a lot with root vegetables."

He noted that the farm-to-table trend started in California, "where everything can be grown in your back yard. All these chefs started getting their own farms. It's become a trend that I think will stick, because people want to eat healthier these days, and they want to have a neighborhood restaurant that they hold in high regard."

The Farm's produce comes from local growers such as Zoe's Garden, High Star Farm, Tagge's Farm and Copper Moose Farm, as well as what Musolf finds at the farmers market held at the Canyons' lower parking lot on Wednesdays.

During lunch you can find a a vegetable soup, studded with corn, carrots and zucchini.

"I like to have the vegetables speak for themselves, so I use vegetable stock in it instead of chicken stock," Musolf said. You'll also find an "oxtail" onion soup, which speaks to Musolf's willingness to use the entire beef — including its tail — rather than just the choice steaks.

"With our vision, we are not just going to be cornered into a filet, when there are more cuts like flat iron and hanger steak that can be used," Musolf said. "Even if you get a brisket, you can braise it. All of my proteins are cooked sous vide because it has an unrivaled texture and flavor."

Sous vide is the method of sealing the meat in a pouch and cooking it submerged in water at a constant low temperature.

The comfort classic Mac and Cheese gets a new twist with Gold Creek white cheddar cheese (produced in Woodland, Utah) and nU Nooz Artisan Pasta (specially made by chef Kyle Lore so that sauces cling to its ridges). Yes, when you are eating "farm to table," every menu item could tell its own story. Or two.

Musolf came from Charleston, S.C. He noted that although the South has a much longer growing season, "I am finding more producers here who are into the farm to table movement."

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