Local Foods is a burgeoning company that bridges the gap between local farms and chefs, fostering the middle ground to help make local foods a regular and accessible part of life for Chicagoans.
Although eating local is the hottest buzz term of the century, hotter even than cronut, it’s a mentality that is often easier said than done. Until a mindful company comes in to seamlessly bridge the gap between farm and table. Local Foods is that company, an organization that sprouted last year and has grown exponentially over the past several months to become the go-to resource for farm-fresh food deliveries in Chicago. What started off as a miniscule operation with broad hopes and dreams has ballooned into something extraordinary, as exemplified by the recent announcement of Local Foods’ forthcoming 27,000 square foot facility due this fall.
Many farm-to-table advocates cite the works of Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, Michael Pollan, John Jeavons, Alice Waters, Joel Salatin and others in their preference for the freshest ingredients and in their attempts to educate their customers about the link between farmers, farm communities, ancient food-production practices, and the food we eat. Increasingly, the public backlash against genetically-modified organisms in our food supply has added a note of political activism to what had been, until recently, a largely aesthetic movement. Farm-to-table restaurants may buy their produce directly from farmers, usually local. In a few cases, the restaurants and farms may be owned and operated by the same people. The farm-to-table movement has arisen more or less concurrently with recent changes in attitude about food safety, food freshness, food seasonality, and small-farm economics. Advocates and practitioners of the farm-to-table model frequently cite as their motivations the scarcity of fresh, local ingredients; the poor flavor of ingredients shipped from afar; the poor nutritional integrity of shipped ingredients; the encroachment of genetically modified foods into the food economy; the disappearance of small family farms; the disappearance of heirloom and open-pollinated fruits and vegetables; and the dangers of a highly-centralized food-growing and -distribution system.
Among the first vocal and influential farm-to-table businesses were: Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California; Jerry Traunfeld’s Herbfarm inWashington; Blake Spalding and Jen Castle’s Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, Utah; and Stone Barns restaurant outside New York City. In the last few years the number of farm-to-table operations has grown rapidly. In New York City, Cesca Enoteca & Trattoria since 2003 has been a pioneer on the upper west side for providing farm-to-table menu items for the area (co-owner Godfrey Polistina, Carmine’s, Ouest, Big Bubbas, Virgil’s, Arrosto) has been instrumental in the early developments of the NYC restaurant scene in promoting the farm-to-table philosophy.
Recently, some food and agriculture writers have begun to describe a philosophical divide among chefs: the “food-as-art”, or, in some cases, “molecular gastronomy” camp, including Ferran Adrià and Grant Achatz have increasingly focused on “food made strange”, in which the ingredients are so transformed as to be surprising and even unrecognizable in the final food product. The farm-to-table chefs, on the other hand, have increasingly come to rely upon extremely fresh ingredients that have been barely modified, sometimes presented raw just a few feet from where they grew. Generally, the farm-to-table chefs rely on traditional farmhouse cooking, and may refer to their preparations as “vernacular food” or “peasant food“, with its emphasis on freshness, seasonality, local availability, and simple preparations.