Explore: Locavore Leaders

Four of our favorite farm-to-fork menus in St. Louis.

 

The “eat local” bandwagon is more like a high-speed train, powering through the St. Louis restaurant community with everyone on board. And while the locavore movement has been going strong for a few years, today more chefs are not only embracing it, but also strengthening its importance. Among the chefs driving the train locally, these four stand out. Here they explain the synergy that happens when chefs work with local farmers and share a sneak peek at their fall menus, featuring dishes from one of their favorite local farms.

LOCAL HARVEST
When chef Clara Moore started working at Duff’s in the mid-1990s, “there weren’t as many farmers bringing things to the city,” she recalls. Her boss Jim Voss would drive hours to pick up high-quality produce from farmers on his days off. She carried those early impressions with her until she landed at Local Harvest, a restaurant that began when the Local Harvest grocery store expanded. Thanks to the sources that Local Harvest owner Patrick Horine had lined up for his store, Moore had a slate of local farmers with whom to work. She has since expanded her suppliers to the point where “98 percent of our vegetables are local,” she says. She also notes consumers are perfectly happy to eat frozen veggies in the winter when they know about the chef’s dedication to using local foods. “People are definitely expanding their culinary horizons,” she says.

Moore has expanded her horizons as well. Over the summer, she decided to buy half a cow from longtime supplier Jeremy Parker of Missouri Grass Fed Beef. This meant that she had to come up with ways to use all the cuts. “We’ve had some tricky times serving cow tongue and liver, but we’ve done it,” she says. Of Parker, she says, “He’s not only the nicest man you could meet, he’s so intelligent—and so in love with his cows! It comes out in the product.”

Locavore Top Pick at Local Harvest
Braised osso bucco, a weekend special using shank from Missouri Grass Fed Beef plus sweet potatoes, caramelized onion and a red wine reduction. “The three textures have a nice connection,” Moore says (Local Harvest, 314.772.8815).

SIDNEY STREET CAFÉ
Kevin Nashan loves fall—and when you dine at his restaurant, you taste of the ways it inspires him. “Fall is my favorite time of year in terms of harvest,” says Sidney Street Café‘s chef-owner. “There’s Brussels sprouts, cabbage, greens…” The catch is that the weather determines when produce ripens, so his suppliers will e-mail or text him what’s available, and then he’ll come up with a menu. He thinks eating locally is easier in St. Louis than on the coasts because the farmers are so close to the city. Restaurants and diners here are discovering just how delicious eating locally can be, and Nashan says the trend isn’t going away. “There’s a ton of awesome farms in Missouri,” he says. “We have this gift. We’re so fortunate.”

One such gift is Vesterbrook Farm in Clarksville. It has a long history, dating back to 1902, but Nashan didn’t hear of it until about a year ago when chef friend Cary McDowell tipped him off. Mike Brabo of Vesterbrook quickly became one of Nashan’s go-to suppliers. “We appreciate all the farmers, but he grows a lot of different varieties,” Nashan explains. He also gives Brabo props for lining up ingredients from the neighboring Amish community, like the sorghum that sweetens the pheasant.

Locavore Top Pick at Sidney Street Cafe
Leg of pheasant with cauliflower purée, baby bok choy, pumpkin, chanterelles and a thyme reduction. Nashan grew up eating game in New Mexico and loves the fall pairing of this tender, light-colored meat with subtle-yet-sweet vegetables like cauliflower, baby bok choy and pumpkin, all three from Vesterbrook (Sidney Street, 314.771.5777).

HARVEST
“I love the relationship we have with our farmers,” says Nick Miller, executive chef and owner at Harvest. His cooking philosophy is to get out of the way and let the produce “sing” for itself. That’s why he sources carefully—he believes the ingredients are the reason people come back. His respect for the farmers goes all the way to the plate. “Their hard work is reflected in our dishes,” Miller says.

Miller started buying from St. Isidore Farms of Moscow Mills about five years ago, when Bob Lober “stopped at our back door and was pedaling his wares.” Miller was hooked. “He really pays attention to quality.” The two now sit down together over the winter to discuss what Miller might need for the coming planting season, and Lober will look into growing it. “I’m part of the farming processes at that point,” Miller says.

Locavore Top Pick at Harvest
Peking duck with goat cheese and beet risotto, using what Miller called Lober’s “fantastic beets,” served with braised beet greens, beurre mâtre’d (lemon-parsley butter sauce) and natural duck sauce (Harvest, 314.645.3522).

TERRENE
Chef Brian Hardesty is all about picking up the phone and calling his local suppliers. He may ask what’s in season that week or whether they can supply him with a particular ingredient he’d like to use on the menu. “Usually somebody’s growing it or, even better, they have some weird heirloom variety that you’ve never heard of that’s perfect,” he says. “Sometimes they’ll bring in seed catalogs and we’ll sit for a couple of hours and talk about possibilities.” Hardesty’s circle of local farmers has expanded since he came to Terrene, and one of his favorites is Benne’s Best Meats.

Hardesty first learned about Ron Benne’s farm about four years ago, when he was at Harvest. “When I came to Terrene, I started using his chicken and then his pork,” Hardesty says. “He’s got some of the best-tasting chicken and pork in the area.” He likes that Benne allows the animals to graze and that he focuses on the natural development of their muscles and bones. Benne’s chicken and hogs are “the right size and the right flavor,” Hardesty says. “It all depends on what the animal’s been fed and how it’s lived its life.”

Locavore Top Pick at Terrene
The pork mixed grill features four cuts from Benne’s Best: oak-cured ham, smoked ribs, loin cooked in a wood-fi red oven and house-cured braised pork belly. “As we go through those parts we’ll move on to others,” Hardesty says. The mixed grill will come with caramelized apples, butternut squash and Mound City walnuts (Terrene, 314.535.5100).

 

886_409.jpgChef Clara Moore of Local Harvest

887_409.jpgMike Barbo of Vesterbrook Farm

888_409.jpgChef Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Cafe

889_409.jpgMike Barbo of Vesterbrook Farm

890_409.jpgThe Leg of Pheasant at Sidney Street Cafe

891_409.jpgJeremy Parker of Missouri Grass Fed Beef

892_409.jpgChef Nick Miller of Harvest

893_409.jpgBob Lober of St. Isidore Farms

894_409.jpgThe Peeking Duck at Harvest

895_409.jpgChef Brian Hardesty of Terrene

896_409.jpgRon Benne of Benne’s Best Meats

897_409.jpgThe Pork Mixed Grill at Terrene

 

Photo credit: Photos by Carrie Iggulden

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