The Farmers(s) and the Chef: Hilltop Hanover, Stone Barns & Sweet Grass Grill

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We had quite a full house when I visited Sweet Grass Grill in Tarrytown recently to talk about the collaboration between chefs and local farmers. I had the pleasure of meeting with the Chef of the Sweet Grass Grill, Rick Krebs; Max Apton, Field Foreman at Stone Barns Center For Food and Agriculture; Mike Fedison, Assistant Manager at Hilltop Hanover Farm & Environmental Center; Mara Flanagan, Marketing and Communications Manager at Stone Barns Center; and Jody Hunter, the Farm Liaison for Sweet Grass Grill.  
Sweet Grass Grill

Sweet Grass Grill

Chef Rick has been at Sweet Grass Grill for about 3 months, but he’s always maintained strong ties with local farmers.  As with other chefs with whom I’ve spoken, for him farmer and chef is a natural relationship.  “When you ‘source local’, you help the economy and the environment.  When you get  your ingredients fresh and local, you don’t have to do much to them.  Just treat the food with respect, and you have this incredible dish. These guys do all the hard work really.”  Jody Hunter’s has a great position as Farm Liaison at Sweet Grass – just the fact that Sweet Grass has such a position – says a lot about the ‘Grill’s commitment to local foods.  Jody has been involved with Farm-to-Table since about 1999 when she began working in New York City after culinary school.  She laughs about how she sometimes can’t keep up with ordering because Sweet Grass customers just love the locally grown foods so much; she says they just want more and more! (and for all concerned, that’s a good problem to have).  In addition to Stone Barn and Hilltop Hanover, Sweet Grass works with a few other local farms as well such as Blooming Hill and Langdon.

Sweet Grass Grill farm produce

The local farms have a challenge trying to balance supply and demand too; they work with an array of restaurants offering a variety of produce, having the right ingredients at the right time isn’t always easy. Trendy foods, just like anything else that becomes popular, really come and go. For example, Shishito peppers were virtually unknown a few years back.  Today, they’re a hot item (pun inteneded) on many a menus – usually served “blistered”.  After a few years of working with a restaurant, the farmers are able to get a sense for what each chef’s preferences and proclivities are, and they plan some of their growing with these preferences in mind.  Some chefs get more involved that others. To me, it sounded like Chef Rick would love to spend his days at the farm – if he didn’t have to be in the kitchen. It’s not easy having multiple passions!
Sweet Grass Grill Farm fresh tomato
Farm-to-Table is really a growing trend.  “In the early 2000’s, people didn’t care about the source of their food as much; but now dining customers are much more savvy,  they want to know where the meat comes from, how the the fish is cut, and where it was caught…  it’s pretty cool!”  Mara Flanagan said, “It’s educational for people as well.  People see a new variety on the board and on the menu, they try it and this new vernacular starts seeping into everyday language, this is reslly exciting because it elevates the lanaguage, the whole dining and eating experience.”
The farmers have the opportunity to see their produce presented in beautiful, artistic and delicious ways, appreciated and shared with the community.  The immediate connection for dining customers generated by enjoying a wonderful locally sourced meal, may actually be leading to more people considering farming.  “We get so many applications each year from people who just want to spend time on the farm, whether moonlighting or thinking about farming as a career”, Max from Stone Barns Center said.
I really  enjoyed a fascinating look into the growing and creations of the Hudson Valley’s local food supply – and the bold and delicious collaborations that farmers, chefs and others are helping to create.
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About Author

Contributing blogger Margaret Rizzuto is a portrait and food photographer with an interest in vegetarian and raw foods (though she does admit to occasional indulgences in seafood). Margaret lives and works in Lower Hudson Valley where she loves being surrounded by the beauty of nature, the farms, and of course, great food. She admits to being obsessed with the Food Channel to the point where she’ll even watch shows where meat is being cooked—meat that being a vegetarian she knows she’ll never cook. She loves all the techniques, ingredients and creativity that go into cooking. When not shooting, Margaret can often be found in her garden battling slugs or in her kitchen trying out a new recipe. To see some of Margaret’s food work visit http://www.mrpculinaryart.com or see her portrait work at http://www.margaretrizzutophotography.com

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