Photo: ewwhite, Flickr
Kitchen gardens just aren't enough anymore. A small but growing number of chefs and restaurateurs are taking local to a new level, raising their own meat, keeping honey bees and tending goats to make cheese.
Chef Dan Barber and his acclaimed Blue Hill restaurants helped pioneer the trend. Both his Greenwich Village and Hudson Valley outposts draw from Barber's four-season farm at the Stone Barns Center for Agriculture, about an hour north of New York City. The seven-year-old farm, which also serves as an educational center (Michelle Obama and a group of school kids visited last September), provides the restaurants with everything from banana squash to veal. It's a model that translates best to wide-open spaces. In Aspen, Colorado, for instance, the Little Nell hotel's executive chef, Ryan Hardy, grows produce and raises livestock on his 15-acre Rendezvous Farms. He even makes his own cheese.
But urban chefs are beginning to follow in the muddy steps of their country relations. Brooklyn restaurants Rosewater and Roberta's keep bees to supply their kitchens with honey. (New York City legalized bee-keeping in 2010.) And at Palo Santo, a pan-Latin restaurant also in Brooklyn, chef and owner Jacques Gautier has added a rabbit hutch to his rooftop vegetable garden. (He serves the meat at dinner parties; health laws prohibit him from doing so at the restaurant.)
The inspiration came from a goal he set for himself last year: to make a multi-course meal made exclusively from homegrown ingredients. Rabbits seemed a logical choice for protein since they require little real estate. Gautier, who slaughters and butchers the animals himself (apparently, you really can find any kind of instruction on YouTube), said the experience changed the way he eats. "I'll never look at meat the same way," he said. "Every bite is precious to me." He quickly added, "I'm not saying everybody should raise and kill their meat, but you should be comfortable with it. Otherwise, well, there is no shame in being a vegetarian."
The stable-to-table phenomenon is not limited to the U.S., either. The Fairmont's Queen Elizabeth hotel in Montreal has "adopted" two Saaneen goats (a Swiss variety and milk-producing champions) at Au Claire de Lune, a dairy farm in Laval that makes cheese for the hotel's Beaver Club. The concept has been a big hit with diners, said Jean-Yvon Le Dour, manager of The Beaver Club, and a way for the restaurant to signal its commitment to locally produced food. "We have a picture of the chef and our baby goat in the entrance," Le Dour said. "It's a great ice breaker for conversation on nutrition and proximity to our food supply."