A natural partnership: farmers and chefs

Jan. 11, 2014 @ 12:25 PM

Many of the best, award-winning restaurants in the Triangle are dedicated to sourcing their ingredients from local farms, including many of our vendors at the South Durham Farmers’ Market.

The growing popularity of farm-to-table restaurants has benefited both the participating chefs and farmers. Chefs receive the freshest possible produce and meats, farmers gain appreciative and predictable buyers of their product, and we, the eaters, reap the ultimate reward from their partnership: great food.

Some of our vendors even got their start through the support of locally minded chefs. Liz Clore of Bushy Tail Farm began by supplying the Eddy Pub and the General Store in Saxapahaw, and Ryan and Alicia Butler created Green Button Farm after selling surplus vegetables from their garden and then eventually whole hogs to Pop’s in Durham. 

One of the many benefits of such arrangements is that the farmer does not have to guess the demands of the customer.  Last spring and summer, Clore was able to plan her crops around chef Isaiah Allen’s needs for the Eddy Pub’s seasonal menu. And this upcoming year, she will be expanding her garden to include more of the Italian and French heirloom varieties desired by Oakleaf’s chef, Brendan Cox.

Similarly, the Butlers often decide the types and quantities of livestock to raise based on the needs of local restaurants. Since getting their start supplying Pop’s, Green Button Farm’s pasture-raised  hogs have found their way on to the plates of 10 restaurants including the G2B Gastro Pub, Old Havana Sandwich Shop, Four Square, Big Mike’s BBQ Food Truck, the recently opened Stanbury, and the soon-to- open Tazza Kitchen.

While Butler’s product cannot compete purely on price with meat from US Foods, which is largely from animals raised in confined feeding lots, local chefs choose his product because of the superior quality and a desire to use meat that is sustainably and humanely raised. Moreover, Butler distinguishes himself by the rarity of his offerings, such as guineafowl and heritage breed turkeys and hogs.

Both Bushy Tail Farm and Green Button Farm initially secured informal contracts with restaurants partly by chance. However, the deliberate recognition by chefs of these local suppliers on menus and through social media has since helped them to make new restaurant connections and gain greater name recognition.

For restaurants, sourcing locally is a way to demonstrate their commitment to the community and to using the best ingredients. As Chris Lynch, manager of the G2B Gastro Pub, said, “Local farms may not have the volume that a chain restaurant needs, but we are not a chain restaurant, and we prefer quality to quantity.”

Next Sunday, Jan. 19th, the South Durham Farmers’ Market is proud to be partnering with the locally committed G2B Gastro Pub to host A Winter’s Night Feast. The entire dinner will be sourced with ingredients from the farmers and artisans of our market. Tickets are on sale now for $50 a plate. For more details, visit SouthDurhamFarmersMarket.org.

Elizabeth Zander is market manager for the South Durham Farmers’ Market, which in winter is open 9 a.m. noon each Saturday at Greenwood Commons Shopping Center, 5410 NC Highway 55.