THE FOODIE FILES: Farm to Table, Grape to Glass

By on October 6, 2015

Local farmers, chefs, winemakers bring the farm to our plates.

Chef Joel Hammond (left), sprinkles beet powder on hay-smoked beets, homemade ricotta, chokecherries and thyme atop a bed of chocolate breadcrumbs; Hammond’s Perfect Yolk and Carrots is a work of art on a plate (top right) and this radish amuse-bouche (bottom right), is a nod to Dan Barber, author of ‘The Third Plate.’ (Photo: Annie Fenn, MD)

Chef Joel Hammond (left), sprinkles beet powder on hay-smoked beets, homemade ricotta, chokecherries and thyme atop a bed of chocolate breadcrumbs; Hammond’s Perfect Yolk and Carrots is a work of art on a plate (top right) and this radish amuse-bouche (bottom right), is a nod to Dan Barber, author of ‘The Third Plate.’ (Photo: Annie Fenn, MD)

Jackson, WY – Hello October! It’s harvest season and the best time of year to be a foodie. Farmers markets are winding down, winter is just around the corner, and there is a feeling of urgency to fill the pantry as we hunt, gather and forage. (If you missed the last “Foodie Files,” check out how I’ve been putting up mountains of tomatoes in The Planet archives.)

It’s also the last month we’ll be able to gather around a table and enjoy eating outdoors — one of the reasons I was looking forward to the first ever Generation Farm dinner last week at the Jackson Hole Winery. Little did I know I was about to experience a whole new level of farm-to-table dining.

Farm-to-table: a phrase beloved by the sustainable food movement to describe a meal that is locally sourced and produced close to where it came from. Author Wendell Berry was probably the first to coin the term way back in the 1970s. Then Alice Waters started giving farmers credit for their ingredients by naming them on the menu at her Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse. A culinary philosophy was born: Simply prepare the most pristine ingredients sourced as locally as possible.

When the farm-to-table movement took off like wildfire in restaurants across America, the enthusiasm for naming the origin of every ingredient in each dish got a little out of hand, with menus so wordy and lengthy they tested diners’ patience. Now, some say farm-to-table eating is just another fad, a fading trend.

Chef Dan Barber, author of “The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food,” says we are doing farm-to-table all wrong. Instead of truly supporting the farmers by consuming the foods they need to grow to maintain healthy soil, like cover crops of barley and millet, we are cherry-picking the most popular ingredients. A farm full of heirloom tomatoes is just not sustainable — for the farmer or the soil.

“The Third Plate” Barber refers to is a proposed evolution of cuisine that takes the health of the farm into consideration. The first plate is meat-centric. The second plate is also meat-centric except the cow was grass-fed and the vegetables are organic. On the third plate, the architecture of the meal reflects what is environmentally sound to produce: vegetables move to the center of the plate and meat is used as a garnish.

If Barber had been at the Generation Farm dinner, I suspect he would have been impressed. No cherry-picking there. Diners tasted the full range of ingredients the farm had to offer. It was a menu of collaboration between Farmer Matt Furney, Chefs Joel Hammond and Taylor Furset, and the Schroth family winemakers. All proceeds went to the cost of running the farm.

The chefs, bleary-eyed from prepping the nine-course meal between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. on three consecutive nights — while holding down their day jobs— donated their time. Furney worked tirelessly for days on end to harvest the food. There were vegetables to pick, trout to catch in the Generation Farm pond, pheasant to hunt up over at Blixt and Co. Farm. Beef was sourced from the Mead Ranch and farmer friends at Cosmic Apple, Lark’s Meadow, and Full Circle Farms filled in the gaps in the produce.

And oh, what a meal it was! Alice Waters would have applauded the simplicity and beauty of each of the nine courses. Unique yet not overly fussy, each dish showcased ingredients from the farm. The amuse-bouche consisted of three perfect radishes, each balanced atop nails on a wooden plank. The Mixed Farm Greens featured kale compressed to a thin wispy sheet using a vacuum sealer, giving it a surprisingly buttery texture. The perfectly seared beef dish had everyone asking Furset to name the secret ingredient. He called it “the most simple dish ever,” containing only beef, turnips, carrots and rosemary.

As Hammond, formerly of Gather, 43 North, and Lost Creek Ranch, puts it: “I like to highlight key flavors and what makes each ingredient perfect.” Both Hammond and Furset are locals who attended elementary school together in Alta. Both attended the Central Wyoming College Culinary Arts program, and have honed their craft by reading books, working in prestigious restaurants throughout the world and intensive self-study. (For more photos of the chefs’ creations, head over to JacksonHoleFoodie.com for a full report.)

The dinner was not just farm-to-table but it was also grape-to-glass. The winemakers of Jackson Hole Winery —Ian, Linda and Bob Schroth — were just as bleary-eyed as the chefs from long days spent getting the just-arrived grapes into production. (Anthony Schroth, their primary winemaker, was in Sonoma overseeing the harvest.)

The Schroth family produces a small line of exquisite wines in this former dairy just outside of Jackson, the highest altitude winery in America. It being harvest time (albeit a bit early due to the California drought), grapes were arriving daily from Sonoma County and wine was in all stages of production. Once Anthony makes the call that the grapes are ready for harvest, he and his brother Ian load them into a U-haul truck packed on dry ice. They drive nonstop from California to Jackson with their precious cargo, and the grapes go immediately into the destemming machine when they roll into town. Then it’s all hands on deck as friends, neighbors and fans of their wine scramble to get the grapes into bins to ferment. The Schroth brothers will make this trip every few days for weeks as the grapes roll in.

I know from experience that the Jackson Hole Winery family throws great parties. Hopefully the Generation Farm dinner will be the first of many. As we strolled around the stunningly beautiful property listening to elk bugling in the distance, Bob gave us a lesson in agitating a bin of fermenting syrah grapes with an enormous paddle, a chore that is done by hand here several times a day.

The Hammond/Furset duo dream of opening a farm-to-table restaurant in Jackson featuring all local ingredients mostly sourced from Furney’s Generation Farm in Idaho. With hopes to expand the farm to grow food for the restaurant, the team is on its way to achieving that “third plate” cuisine.

“What will you do in the winter?” I had to ask. After all, our winter is long and our growing season is short. They admit that will present a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. They know how to pickle, smoke, cure, can and preserve.

“And what about all this talk of farm-to-table being a trend that has already had its day?” I also had to ask.

“Nah, it’s not a trend,” Furset said. “It’s just the way we should cook.”

Chef René Stein of The Rose doesn’t even like the term “farm-to-table.” He thinks sourcing from local farms should be the norm, not something reserved for special events. “We are surrounded by so many beautiful farms, we should be getting most of our food locally,” he said. Stein believes chefs should strive to create menus based on what is available within a day’s drive. “It’s way harder to work with what the farmers have, but it’s a lot more fun. This is where creativity comes into play.”

How local can we go in this high altitude, isolated, mountain town? Stein strives to source 80 percent of the food for his restaurant from local producers. Some call that radical local.

Food and wine events for your radar

Want to get your hands — and feet — dirty and help out with the winemaking process? Don’t miss Jackson’s first Crushfest, a beer, wine, spirits and harvest festival put on by Jackson Hole Winery and Lucky’s Market. Team up with a friend to enter the Grape Foot-Stomping Competition, a bracketed contest to see who can crush grapes in a barrel to produce the most juice. That’s from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday at the Teton County Fair Building.

If you missed the Generation Farm dinner, keep a look out for another one later in October. By then, it really will be too cold to eat outdoors — the dinner will be held in the Mead Ranch barn. In the meantime, Hammond is leaving the kitchen at Amangani in Jackson to stage at Atelier Crenn in San Francisco and Furset is taking a break from the Rusty Parrot Lodge but will return to Jackson for the next farm-to-table pop-up.

Craving more farm-to-table events? Book a ticket to the Feast of the Tetons, a very special harvest dinner to benefit our local chapter of Slow Food, Oct. 24. I’ll be hosting this dinner for 40 at my home, but I won’t be cooking. Chef René Stein of The Rose will be donating his time to cook for the event. Visit TetonSlowFood.org for tickets. PJH

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About Annie Fenn, MD

After delivering babies and practicing gynecology for 20 years in Jackson, Annie traded her life as a doctor to pursue her other passion: writing about food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Follow her snippets of mountain life, with recipes, at www.jacksonholefoodie.com and on Instagram @jacksonholefoodie.

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