Sustainable Dining
1:49 pm
Fri September 20, 2013

Conscious Diners Drive Up Demand For 'Farm-to-Chef'

This week was Farm-to-Chef week, as the Connecticut Department of Agriculture makes an effort to promote local produce at Connecticut restaurants. The state’s eateries report they are seeing more demand for locally-grown food.

At Max Amore in Glastonbury, I ordered dinner from the farm-to-chef menu. Sous-chef Bret Cook has sent up an insalata with tomatoes from Gresczyk Farms in New Hartford and mozzarella from Liuzzi in North Haven. As I scoop up a spoonful of creamy bisque, my waiter Michael Corcoran assures me that the corn was not genetically modified. I wash it all down with handcrafted beer from Thomas Hooker Brewery in Bloomfield, and ask Corcoran what customers want to know.

“Many times, where the fish comes from is of importance,” he said. “There are environmental questions – is this wild; is this farmed? People are interested in where their food is coming from like never before.”

In the summer, this restaurant buys nearly 60 percent of its ingredients from local farmers, because of customer demand from people like Jim and Rita Peretto from Rocky Hill. “Even at home when we cook, [it's] always fresh vegetables, fresh fruit and meats,” Rita said. “Truly, it does matter to us.”

“I think it tastes better,” Jim added. “I think it’s healthier for you, and we are also supporting businesses in Connecticut.”

I especially liked the sweet peppers at Max Amore, and wanted to see where they came from. It turned out it’s less than 30 miles away, at Oxen Hill Farm in Suffield. Farmer Lisa Griffin said despite the cost, restaurants are asking for local, organic produce. “For us, as USDA certified organic growers, it has to be worth it to the restaurant to know that their customers find it worth the price for organic produce,” she said. “At this point, it seems to be something that’s paying off.”

The business philosophy at Firebox in Hartford is: The best food travels the shortest distance from farm to table. Executive chef Sean Farrell said even though organic, local ingredients are more expensive, business is booming. “We’ve seen a 20 percent growth across the board in sales throughout this full year,” Farrell said.

I paid just over $60 for a dinner entree for two, a side order of hand-cut fries, and wine. Just like at Max Amore, the recipes were simple, and the sauces were in the background, letting the fresh ingredients come through.

At the kitchen, local farmer Kenny Dahill brought in a sample of organically-raised chickens. “These were all running around yesterday, and today, they’re in our kitchen,” Farrell said. “So I don’t think it gets much fresher than that.” He explained that these chickens won’t be breaded and fried. According to Farrell, that treatment is done to disguise the taste of processed chicken.

But all this comes at a price premium, so I asked manager Spiro Koulouris if there is a way to make the food more affordable. He said it’s already being done. “You see options for them on our tavern menu and all sorts of things,” Koulouris pointed out. “You’re seeing more happy hour specials. But we’re not changing the ingredients even for those items. You know those items are all fresh, local, with the same things that you see on our most expensive dinner entrees.” Koulouris said that’s how they’re growing their market among the younger demographic: environmentally-conscious people in their twenties.

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Sweet peppers from Oxen Hill Farm in Suffield.
Sweet peppers from Oxen Hill Farm in Suffield.
Credit Sujata Srinivasan

RECIPE
Block Island Swordfish for Farm-to-Chef Week 
by Executive Chef Ted Burnett of Max Amore, Glastonbury

Ingredients
Swordfish
Sweet peppers, Oxen Hill Farm
Yellow and green squash, Deercrest Farm
Nectarine marmalade, Hickory Hill Orchards
Parsley, oregano and thyme
Cipollini onions
Pumpkin spice
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt

Directions
• Grill the swordfish (Mesquite Grill used at Max Amore.)
• As the fish is cooking, julienne Oxen Hill sweet mixed peppers as well as Deercrest yellow and green squash.
• Cook the fresh vegetables with a little extra virgin olive oil and quickly cook to soften and keep crisp.
• Add to the vegetables a mix of parsley, oregano, thyme and a bit of kosher salt.
• Once the fish is done, place the vegetables in the center of the plate with swordfish on top.
• To finish, top with Hickory Hill nectarine marmalade seasoned with pumpkin spice and cipollini onions.

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RECIPE
Fall Squash Soup
by Executive Chef Sean Farrell of Firebox, Hartford

Ingredients
3 local acorn squash
3 local butternut squash
3 local Blue Hubbard squash
1 Spanish onion
4 cloves garlic
6 sprigs thyme
2 quarts vegetable stock
6 ounces butter
1 bunch sage

Directions
• Cut squash in halves. Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, till tender when forked.
• While squash is roasting, sweat onions, garlic and thyme until translucent.
• Peel squash and scoop out pulp. Add to onion mixture and cover with vegetable stock. Simmer for 45 minutes.
• Brown butter in pan and add sage. Strain immediately into soup.
• Puree soup until silky smooth.
• Garnish with roasted apples and bacon.

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Fresh tomatoes at Firebox in Hartford.
Fresh tomatoes at Firebox in Hartford.
Credit Sujata Srinivasan

CONNECTICUT FARMERS' MARKET TRAIL
FarmersMarketTrail.com

Farmers Market at Billings Forge
Thursday 11 AM – 2 PM, year round
536 Broad St., Hartford, CT

Norfolk Farmers’ Market
Saturday 10 AM – 1 PM, May 18-October 12 19
Maple Ave., Norfolk, CT

Litchfield Hills Farm-Fresh Market
Saturday 10 AM – 1 PM, June-October
125 West St., Litchfield, CT

West End Farmers’ Market
Tuesday & Friday 4 –7 PM, June-October
Farmington Ave. and S Whitney St., Hartford, CT

Westport Farmers’ Market
Thursday 10 AM – 2 PM, May 23-November 7 50 Imperial Ave., Westport, CT

Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market
Sunday 11 AM – 2 PM, June-October
2299 South St., Coventry, CT

Wethersfield Farmers’ Market
Thursday 3 – 6 PM, May-October
220 Hartford Ave., Wethersfield, CT

Chester Sunday Market
Sunday 10 AM – 1 PM, June 17 – October
21 Main St., Chester, CT

CitySeed Markets, New Haven
Wooster Square, Saturday 9 AM – 1 PM
Edgewood Park, Sunday 10 AM – 2 PM
Downtown, Wednesday 11 AM – 3 PM
Fairhaven, Thursday 2 – 6 PM
The Hill, Friday 11 AM – 2 PM

Storrs Farmers’ Market
Saturday 3 – 6 PM, May – November
1235 Storrs Rd., Mansfield, CT

Putnam Saturday Farmers’ Market
Saturday 10 AM – 1 PM, June 23-October 3
18 Kennedy Dr., Putnam, CT

Denison Farm Market
Sunday Noon – 3 PM, June-October
120, Pequotsepos Rd., Mystic, CT

Stonington Farmers’ Market
Saturday 9 AM – Noon, May-October
11 Northwest St., Stonington, CT

Lyme Farmers’ Market
Saturday 9 AM – 12:30 PM, June-October
78 Bill Hill Rd., Lyme, CT