Cape May, NJ – Two guys stand in a hundred foot long greenhouse, sizing up the winter spinach. They’re deep in conversation about the status of the greens – are they too tough, too tender, just right? They reach down to nibble some lettuce – and at that moment, you just know these two are not farm hands.
Lucas Manteca and Jeremy Einhorn are chefs. And they are planning dinner.
For Lucas Manteca, the executive chef at the Ebbitt Room in Cape May, and Jeremy Einhorn, the executive chef at Congress Hall, menus begin at Beach Plum Farm - “our farm” they call it. (The two restaurants and the farm are all owned by Cape Resorts Group.)
The farm to table movement – eating local foods grown close to home – has mushroomed in popularity. Some restaurants list, right on their menus, who grows the veggies and poultry.
Getting those locally sourced ingredients is not easy. Not all restaurants have the luxury of owning their own farms.
Cape May County, the chefs say, is a particularly tough spot for farm to table restaurants, despite the agricultural heritage of South Jersey. Big cities like Philly and New York siphon off much of the food grown locally. Finding local food these days can take more time than cooking it. Manteca remembers having to pick some of his own vegetables when he owned a restaurant in Stone Harbor.
When it comes to chickens, he says finding a local source for organic poultry proved so difficult, the farm started experimenting with raising chickens. Right now, they have primarily egg layers - 150 of them that turn out dozens of eggs a day.
To expand the local food offerings, the chefs encouraged Beach Plum Farm to grow a herd of Berkshire pigs. The locally raised pork will be featured in a Slow Food dinner next week at Congress Hall. The dinner will be a fundraiser for Cape May Forum. That dinner is now sold out.
For that dinner, both chefs will collaborate on a menu made with all local foods – not an easy thing to do this time of year. They’re planning to use the pork in a cassoulet, and to include local fluke and scallops. Cape May Salts oysters are also on the menu.
While the Slow food dinner was on their minds during a recent farm visit, the chefs’ real focus was the spring, and summer. Decisions made now affect what goes on dinner plates at the Ebbitt Room and the Blue Pig from April through December.
How’s the asparagus, they wanted to know. What types of squash are we growing? They talked to farm manager Jaime Alvarez like an old friend. The chefs were actively involved this year in choosing the varieties of produce to grow. In this new farm to table movement, one thing is clear – chefs need to know almost as much about growing food as they do about cooking and serving it.
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