By David Cederstrom, Chronicle Staff Writer
About 70 people — including 25 chefs and farmers from 23 regional farms — attended a conference on “Increasing Local Food in Restaurant Menus” on March 26 at Dunham’s Bay Resort.
The event was sponsored by Adirondack Harvest, SUNY Adirondack and the Tri-County Transition Initiative.
“This is the first step toward a series of dining festivals featuring local food and craft beverages…in the Lake George Region,” said the event press release.
Adam Hainer of the Juniper Hill vegetable farm near Westport, Essex County, and Chef AJ Richards of Dunham’s Bay Resort, who have worked together for several growing seasons, gave presentations.
Mr. Hainer said 2014 was his farm’s best year. “We sold to 30 different restaurants and had vegetables going as far as New York City. We have a delivery corridor for Plattsburgh straight down through Albany, with weekly deliveries.”
He said their restaurant sales have been increasing 15% per year.
In Chef Richards’s connecting with Juniper Hill, the chef made the first overture.
“At first I didn’t know how to approach that, but AJ came up with some ideas and we made it work,” said Mr. Hainer.
Juniper Hill lists on its website whatever fresh vegetables it has at the moment, and Chef Richards places his orders online.
The chef said that it was hard at first for him to explain to Mr. Hainer’s the restaurant needs, and to adapt menu items to what’s available fresh locally, but “we made it work.”
In some cases Chef Richards said it means listing menu items as having local ingredients but not specifying them, so that there’s flexibility to use what happens to be fresh and available at a given time.
Asked how a small farm without great daily volume can get involved with restaurants, the chef said there’s a niche with smaller restaurants. “There’s a lot of restaurants that can and will support you guys,” he told the farmers.
Mr. Hainer said smaller farms can’t necessarily match price points of major wholesalers, but that higher quality and better taste are promotable.
He said farmers can also work with chefs on growing specialty items that small farms have the flexibility and willingness to grow, such as hand-harvested items that large farms aren’t going to grow.
Also discussed were the opportunities and challenges of supplying local produce to school districts.
Breakfast items prepared by Chef Richards from local products were donated by Dunham’s Bay Resort and Whitefield’s Farm, said press information.
Teresa Whalen of Warrensburg represented the Southern Chapter of Adirondack Harvest. She said the program was started 12 years ago by Essex County Cornell Cooperative Extension, and it now encompasses all counties in or touching the Adirondack Park.
Ms. Whalen said they are working with Warren County Tourism and I Love New York “promoting restaurants that use locally sourced ingredients.”
Suzanne Carreker-Voight, executive director of the Saratoga-based Regional Farm and Food Project, said an all-local food and craft beverage festival/fundraiser is planned for mid-July.
Conference goals included increasing “the usage of fresh, locally grown, raised, and prepared foods, [and creating] more opportunities for local farming.”
What’s next? Hopes for a local food & drinks fest
Theresa Whalen of Adirondack Harvest, a co-organizer of the “Increasing Local Food in Restaurant Menus” conference (see page 1), tells The Chronicle that after a followup meeting, she expects to form a planning committee with participating restaurants and farms to create a regional local-foods festival.
She said there were “even more chefs who couldn’t be there at the conference” who expressed interest in the March 29 event and in a regional local food and craft beverage festival.
She said there are other such events, for example, the Hudson Berkshire Food and Wine Festival. “It’s a no-brainer in our area because of our tourism. It impacts the entire economy. It could be a week or a month long, including markets, stores, educational programs, kids events. We would capitalize on the tourism economy we have and focus on restaurants.” — Cathy DeDe
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