The farm-to-table movement began in Italy when countrymen became concerned their traditional dishes would be overshadowed by fast-food restaurants. They began a return to roots by eating “slow food,” characterized by cooking and serving foods fresh from the farm. The idea to return to locally grown foods spread and swept across the globe.
Three years ago Chef David Bancroft visited one of Frank Stitt’s restaurants in Birmingham and noticed on the menu just-picked produce from various farms. Bancroft realized utilizing local farms made an impact not only in the menu and presentation, but was also beneficial to the community in helping farmers.
“I thought I was light years behind,” says Bancroft, the executive chef at Amsterdam Café in Auburn. “I came back to Auburn and searched the Internet to find local farms.
“The day I pulled up at Randle Farms and looked across their pasture where the lambs were grazing,” says the chef, “that was the definitive moment when I decided this is the new path, this is the way to do it right.”
Bancroft and the Randles established a farm-to-table system. “It was exciting to be part of launching the first farm-to-table movement in East Alabama,” says the chef.
Since then he has expanded to gather supplies from other farms in the surrounding area. Bancroft is planning a garden in back of Amsterdam Café.
408 South Gay Street, Auburn.
“Supporting local farmers and obtaining the highest quality products available has always been a priority,” says Executive Chef John Hamme of Maestro 2300. “I was fortunate enough to be classically trained by chefs that focused on sustainable ingredients. After all, that is how the cuisines of the world were originally developed utilizing what is in your backyard.
“This approach to food was a way of life long before we began genetically altering products to yield a specific color, size and shape, then shipping them across the country to be eaten weeks after being picked.
“At Maestro 2300 we not only source the freshest produce available, we also extend that way of thinking into sourcing all products for the restaurant.” This includes beef, pork, lamb, poultry, seafood and Artisanal cheeses.
2300 Moores Mill Road, Auburn
The Hotel at Auburn University
“There are many factors that go into why farm-to-table is the right thing to do,” says Andrew Litherland, executive chef of The Hotel at Auburn University. As well as supporting local farmers, it gives the chef the ability to work with them to create a unique product based on the season.
“Having the product from the farms helps us better plan our year-round menu, knowing what is coming out of the ground locally,” adds Litherland.
“Working with the farmers also helps to build a trust with knowing actually where our product is coming from and the practices they have to produce the product. Most farmers really understand our needs and share the same passion that we have when it comes to great product.
“Bottom line,” adds the chef, “the products from the farms taste 100 times better, have better texture and are better for you. We need to build a better, more self-sufficient future for our children so they can continue this with generations to come.”
Last summer Litherland and Ariccia Chef de Cuisine Miguel Figueroa began their farm-to-table program on Thursdays after visiting the local farmers’ market. Chefs at the hotel created three-course menus with their great produce items, fresh goat cheeses, honey, among other products.
“We really enjoy going every week to support the community and to build relationships with the local farmers,” says Litherland. “We make it a trip for our culinary team so they can also get involved.”
The Hotel at Auburn University & Ariccia
241 South College Street, Auburn
“We do not buy bulk produce,” says Executive Chef Eron Bass of Café 123. “Being a smaller restaurant, I prefer to go shopping for our produce at local markets so I can see that I’m getting the freshest possible produce. It’s a good way to meet the farmers face to face and understand how they operate and what they have to offer.
“Although shopping locally can sometimes be a little difficult and more expensive in some cases, it is well worth helping local farmers.”
123 South 8th Street, Opelika
“I buy from local and area providers every chance I get,” says Executive Chef Jimmy Sikes of Jimmy’s Restaurant, including fruits and veggies, and also free-range chickens and eggs, butter and cheese. When a farmer or grower comes to my back door, I most always say yes.”
Jimmy’s also uses specialty producers.
104 South 8th Street, Opelika
“Great restaurants have always looked for local producers of food in order to find the highest quality ingredients,” says Executive Chef Rob McDaniel of SpringHouse Restaurant.
The chef has been working closely with several local farmers where he purchases a variety of items, including for the most part protein in the form of chicken, pork, beef, veal, lamb, rabbits and ducks. He has visited the farms and seen the operations first hand. “I see the care that is taken to raise these animals, and it makes a difference.”
With the help of farmers and others in the community he started a chapter of Slow Food U.S.A. “Slow Food Crossroads mission is to connect consumers to producers of a safe, sustainable food source through education and programming,” says the chef.
12 Benson Mill Road, Alexander City
Ham and High
“As a chef, I strive to use the best ingredients at their peak,” says Executive Chef Joe Wolfson of Ham and High. “By working directly with local farmers and suppliers to obtain the season’s best produce, meats and ingredients, I am able to prepare the freshest, most flavorful dishes every day.
“Being the chef at Ham and High is a dream job for me,” says the chef, “because I have access to my own all-natural farm (Hampstead Farms) right down the street. My staff and I can base our menus around what’s available at Hampstead Farms, allowing us to keep the menus 100 percent seasonal and about as local as you can get.”
The chef is excited he can change the menu daily. “I get to design a menu based upon what is being brought to me that day or even what I picked myself only minutes before.”
Ham and High
5251 Hampstead High Street, Montgomery