Farm-to-Table Concept Is Growing

Among the most powerful little words in our language are: Guilty!Not Guilty!; I’m Pregnant; It’s a Boy!; We won!; Thank you;  Yes and NO!

Celebrated Chef Larry Forgione

Celebrated Chef Larry Forgione

Celebrated Chef Larry Forgione said, NO!

He said, “NO,” while standing at the podium in front of 350 of the top-flight food folk in the nation. He spoke at The First Symposium on American Cuisine convened by Phillip S. Cooke and Daniel Maye in Louisville, Kentucky in 1982.

Larry Forgione was the keynote speaker. He was chosen because he was, and remains to this day, a pioneer of farm-to-table local ingredient sourcing.

Chef Forgione talked in poetic, inspirational words, describing the joys of farm-fresh ingredients, grass-fed pork and beef, handmade berry and cherry preserves, honey and local dairy, artisanal cheeses.

At the end of his speech, he was asked if he would provide the audience with a list of his suppliers.

He said, “No” because  he couldn’t say, “Yes.’”

Why Not?

Forgione said NO but failed to explain to the audience that small farms and cottage industries that supplied his restaurant couldn’t possibly handle the huge volume that would be needed for deliveries to giant enterprises.

A view from Windows on the World restaurant

A view from Windows on the World restaurant

For example, the Windows on the World restaurant in the World Trade Center, was actually two acres of restaurants, serving hundreds of guests every day at breakfast, lunch and dinner. The management also dreamed of saving the environment and serving fruits and vegetables filled with sunshine, but their desire for quality always had to be tempered with practicality, and the need for large quantities of supplies.

Not incidentally, it was far too great a hassle for small farmers to drive many miles into downtown Manhattan and wrestle with security guards and crowded elevators in order to deliver their small batches of newly plucked peaches, live lobsters, bunches of fragrant herbs, small batches of smoked salmon, a few dozen new laid eggs and some“free-range” chickens. (“Free-range” is a term Forgione himself coined.)

An American Place

Larry Forgione’s restaurant, An American Place, named by food legend, James Beard, his mentor and friend, had room only for 45 seats. Similarly Alice Waters’ trail-blazing, tiny Chez Panisse restaurant, founded in 1971, served only a handful of guests, though with the highest quality, organically-grown and in-season ingredients on its prix fixe, limited menu.

The New American Cuisine

Larry Forgione provided his long-ago audience with a vision of a New American Cuisine; a table for two with every element in perfect balance. On one plate, a perfectly roasted quail; on another, a perfect breast of duck with a simple sauce and combined tastes that were coaxed and nurtured until they explode into a symphony of flavors. And everything — fresh, fresh, fresh!

Back then he was sharing a philosophy — not a shopping list. His listeners didn’t understand then.  Now they do.

Larry’s great, great uncle was Francesco Forgione from Pietrelcina Italy, otherwise known to practicing Catholics as “Padre Pio” — or ever since Pope Paul Canonized him in 2002, “Saint Pio.” Following in his ancestor’s saintly footsteps, Chef Forgione is universally acknowledged as the Godfather of American food.  (Alice Waters seems to have similarly been awarded a sort of honorary culinary sainthood.)

Forgione’s long journey began at the Culinary Institute of America. He graduated in 1974 and continues to preach to the choir — He was named “Chef Of the Year” at the 1993 James Beard Awards. Now the CIA has just launched a new program that allows students to study farm-to-table cuisine with him as their guide and mentor at the college’s California campus, the CIA at Greystone.

Chef Forgione glimpsed the future: it is Mensana in Corpore Sano, meaning “A sound mind in a healthy body.”

Thanks to Larry’s vision, today there also is such a food job as farm-to-table chef, and folks are hiring.

What’s Up?

The pendulum is still swinging between sumptuous and the sublime, the stark and austere and these contrasts of style are found not only in the restaurants but also in the food itself.  In some places styles overlap while at others they are more clearly defined.

The revolution in the ways we are eating today is still evolving, and it is a wondrously intriguing game to try to sample it all and all at once.  There are instant gratifications of new pleasures paired with old indulgences. We are seeing everything on the same menu — from duck with fresh foie gras and cornmeal pancakes with caviar to almost instant ice cream fabricated with liquid nitrogen.

Here’s Chef Larry Forgione’s recipe for :

Cornmeal Pancakes
from An American Place
Makes about 24 9-inch pancakes

1 cup flour

1 cup stone-ground cornmeal

¼ teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

2 large eggs

2 egg yolks

2 cups milk

4 tablespoons salted butter, melted

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Corn oil for frying the pancakes

Mix the flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, eggs and egg yolks.  Gradually whisk in the milk and continue stirring until the batter is smooth. Stir in the melted butter.

Let the batter rest for at least 30 minutes or overnight.

Lightly brush a 9-inch non-stick frying pan with oil.  Heat the pan and pour in about 2 tablespoons of batter to coat the bottom.  If the batter does no easily cover the bottom of the pan, thin it with a little milk.

Cook each pancake over medium heat for about one minute or until lightly browned.

Flip the pancake and cook the other side, for just a few seconds.

Repeat until you have used all the batter.

 

 

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