As issues surrounding food security and the importance of supporting local producers continue to stay relevant in the culinary world, more and more chefs are incorporating locally-sourced, sustainably-produced ingredients into their menus. Whether it’s lettuce leaves plucked straight from the soil or oysters harvested only minutes away from the tables where they’re served, the value of homegrown harvests are evident.
However, for many diners, the idea of “farm-to-table” can be little more than a buzzword uttered by a server or printed in the pages of a local restaurant review. Without an understanding of the true story of farm-to-table ingredients, the concept can be elusive.
During a recent trip to Raleigh, NC, our team had the opportunity to go beyond the plate and immerse ourselves in the journey from the fields where the ingredients were grown to the dinner table peppered with meticulously-prepared plates featuring the veggies and garnishes. For the minds behind the decorated Herons at The Umstead, farm-to-table is more than just an idea. It’s a way of providing their guests with a unique, innovative meal rooted firmly in the foodways of the area.
Despite the dreary weather, chef de cuisine Spencer Thomson accompanied us to One Oak Farm where the affectionately-dubbed farmer Alyssa showed us the process of growing the produce that adorns the plates at Herons. Amidst the foggy hills and soggy ground, we saw the covered beds and steamy greenhouses where leafy greens and fragrant spices sprouted before being harvested and incorporated into the restaurant’s menu. Alyssa’s deep understanding of her crops and their unique flavors was apparent as she shaved off pieces of various roots and picked leaves from their stalks for us to sample and taste.
With the taste of fresh ginger in our mouths, and the scent of lavender on our hands, we returned to The Umstead where we sat down to a dinner prepared by celebrated chef, Steven D. Greene. As each course was carefully set onto the table, our team was quick to spot the colorful flower buds and yellow-hued corn we had seen on the farm. The precision and intricacy of each dish was obvious as we delighted in the beautifully-crafted recipes that were rich in flavor, but still easily-identifiable as products of the area’s foodways.
The synergy between One Oak Farm and Herons at The Umstead creates a special culinary experience. Unique to the hills of Raleigh, the menu was testament to the power of the farm-to-table ideology. Steven, Spencer, Alyssa, and the entire team behind-the-scenes at Herons prove that sustainable farming and a conscious effort to champion local ingredients lead to a certain magic on the plate that can’t be replicated anywhere else. The entire operation at The Umstead is nothing short of incredible and opened our eyes to the ways in which dining can truly go beyond the plate.
The next time you take a trip, or even when you’re preparing your next home-cooked meal, take the time to seek out local ingredients and restaurants that employ farm-to-table practices. We promise your tastebuds will thank you.