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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."

The menu changes with what's ripe and in season. Every two weeks there's a "featured ingredient" from the farmer's market on the menu — currently it's Tagge's Farm Summer Corn Soup with Marjoram Froth, and a few weeks ago it was cherry cobbler featuring plump, juicy Tagge's cherries (Tagge's is part of Box Elder County's "Fruitway.") The recipes are posted on the restaurant's Facebook page (The Farm Restaurant at Canyons Resort).

Unfortunately, brand names and cared-for ingredients cost more than generics. The soups are $8, lunch sandwiches $12-13. A generous helping of Mac and Cheese is $11, or $18 with Colosimo Smoked Sausage. A "sliders" trio features three cute little miniburgers — one made with lamb, one with beef and one with turkey, for $15.

Dinner entrees range from $18 for Summer Corn Risotto to $32 for Truffle and Onion Crusted Beef Tenderloin.

Well, OK. If we can't afford to be a regular diner at The Farm, we can at least cook like The Farm. Here's one of chef Musolf's recipes, which derives some of its flavor from corn cobs.

TAGGE'S FARM SUMMER CORN SOUP WITH MARJORAM FROTH

3 cups whole milk

3 ears of fresh corn, kernels cut from cobs, cobs broken in half and reserved

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter

1 large onion, chopped

1 large carrot, peeled, thinly sliced

1 celery stalk, thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, pressed

2 cups water

2 large fresh thyme sprigs

2 fresh rosemary sprigs

1 bay leaf

Ground white pepper

Bring milk and corncob halves (not kernels) just to boil in heavy medium pot. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep while sautéing vegetables.

Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; sprinkle with salt and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes (do not let onion brown). Add corn kernels, carrot, celery, and garlic; cook until vegetables are soft, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. Add 2 cups water, herb sprigs, bay leaf, and milk with corncobs. Increase heat and bring to boil. Cover partially, reduce heat to low, and simmer 20 minutes to blend flavors.

Discard corncobs, herb sprigs, and bay leaf. Cool soup slightly. Working in batches, puree soup in blender until very smooth. Strain into large bowl, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Season soup to taste with salt and white pepper.

Valerie Phillips is the former Deseret News food editor. She blogs at www.chewandchat.blogspot.com.Email: vphillips@desnews.com

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