When it comes to food, particularly restaurants, farm-to-fork, or farm-to-table, is a catchy term used to indicate that a restaurant uses local ingredients.
The idea isn't exactly new, but movements can take years of toil before they can lay claim to noticeable shifts in the way we do things. The farm-to-fork movement has become a national movement for myriad reasons. In Oklahoma, farm-to-fork restaurants aren't prevalent, but the fact that a few have been able not only to survive, but also flourish using local foods is reason to cheer.
Using ingredients within a 150-mile radius can be a tall order even in a rural state like Oklahoma, thanks to our dramatic weather and climate changes.
A growing number of restaurants across the state have been bringing in local ingredients for some time, and continue to expand as more Oklahoma producers are eager to grow foods chefs and consumers want. They are erecting hoop houses and greenhouses to keep restaurants supplied with fresh local ingredients.
In Oklahoma City, Avis Scaramucci of Nonna's grows her own herbs and a number of vegetables most of the year in extensive greenhouses. Others, like Stella's Modern Italian, have seasonal tomato plants and herbs growing right up to their entrance. Chef Kurt Fleischfresser of The Coach House has been relying on local producers for popular menu items for many years.
More recently, Ludivine in Midtown and Local in Norman have opened and stuck to 90-percent or more of their ingredients being sourced locally.
Farmers and producers love to have this ready market available for what they grow.
It's not always an easy path to follow for a restaurant, but it is an important path and requires dedication. It depends on farming. The return is in what ends up on your fork: great food. The dollars spent to purchase the food by the chef and by the folks dining in the restaurant end up back in the local economy. Great locally grown food is just plain good business for everyone.
Ludivine, 805 N Hudson Ave., celebrates its third anniversary in October. The modern restaurant known for classic technique owned by chefs Jonathon Stranger and Russ Johnson, has made an indelible mark not only on local dining but also local farming.
Local, in Norman, continues to flourish with its unique food for the whole family appeal.
Most recently, in the small northern Oklahoma community of Tonkawa, TS Fork opened in a beautifully renovated building. Farm fresh food appeals to our Oklahoma agrarian roots. What better way to celebrate our October Oklahoma Table than to step inside these unique dining rooms.
Ludivine in Norman
It is a real treat to follow two gifted chefs around one of Oklahoma's top farmer's markets. Ludvine's Stranger and Johnson start early every Wednesday and Saturday as OSU-OKC opens to get the best and freshest Oklahoma producers have available. You could definitely call these two chefs “market regulars.” The excellent relationships between producer and chef are immediately apparent. Not only are friendships forged through the years, but an economic livelihood sustains both restaurant and farm.
The bond extends far beyond what year-round producers bring to the market. They often grow things by chef request: In some cases the chef provides a specific seed. This way the farmer/producer has a market for the produce before a seed is planted. An animal can be raised to a chef's specifications, often with certain feed given during various stages of production.
Ludivine's chefs work with Andy Bowen and Kim Barker of Walnut Creek Farm near Waynoka in northwest Oklahoma. Bowen, mayor of Waynoka, is quick to tell anyone that he has learned a lot from the Ludivine chefs. Bowen says he's learned a special way to finish the hogs he provides the restaurant and it is an important secret he's keeping. Bowen and Barker are committed to growing their animals with no corn or soy and no GMO feed. They are “Green Ag” all the way, as Bowen put it. He said there was no doubt chef Stranger “made me a better producer.”
Walnut Creek Farm also supplies the beautiful lambs and chickens served at the restaurant. (The farm raises Mangalitsa and Berkshire hogs.) Any restaurateur will tell you that having dedicated staff is essential to success. The Ludvine chefs are probably one of very few chefs, if any, in the country who take a camping trip with their staff every spring. They camp at Walnut Creek Farm.
I perched on a comfortable stool at the counter surrounding the open kitchen at Ludvine in the evening after following the chefs at the morning market. They shared the well-organized clean space with their sous chef in a beautifully practiced way. This mindful orchestration was a pleasure to watch, as they tended the stove and still managed to turn out a variety of dishes, including plenty of Oklahoma-grown fare. Their intensive daylong prep work was evident in the Oklahoma food art that ended up on my fork.
They brought forth a lovely charcuterie with a country pate, rabbit rillette, chicken liver mousse and house cured salmon, including some local condiments of pickled shallots and an intensely flavored apple jam made from Crestview Farms' apples. Ludvine is known for its roasted bone marrow; it was a treat made complete for me with childhood memories of scooping the stuff from arm bones in my mother's pot roasts.
The braised and glazed Walnut Creek lamb tartine on a slice of Waving Wheat Bakery bread and topped with a fried egg bordered on brilliant with the combination of local ingredients with butter from Wagon Creek Creamery near Helena and the egg from Shining Sea Farm near Atoka. My server grew up on Walnut Creek Farm and was appropriately proud. “That's our lamb,” she said.
TS Fork in Tonkawa
Tonkawa's TS Fork, a fledgling Farm-to-Fork restaurant, was just a 45-minute drive from our home north of Enid. Ponca City Public Schools Nutrition Director Jeff Denton has added another hat to his food ventures with Friday and Saturday night dining at TS Fork. TS Fork opened with a now-signature appetizer of crispy-crusted deviled eggs and plenty of fine entertainment including Chef Denton's daughter Madi. The main restaurant is upstairs but there is a patio for libations and some tables on the ground floor of this renovated building at the corner of Main and Grand in Tonkawa.
Jeff likes to also call it a destination restaurant with plenty of nearby attractions to keep folks occupied until the 6:30 pm dinnertime. The set menu changes every two weeks but by popular demand and sometimes by necessity: The unique deviled eggs remain the signature start of this dining experience. They resulted from trying to peel super fresh eggs which were boiled to make the usual kind of deviled eggs. Truly fresh eggs can be almost impossible to peel — so the improvisation topped with a bit of local pickle relish became a signature.
The service is family style and if only one or two of you are out to eat, you won't be dining alone. The concept added to the pleasure of the experience. My dinner companions were from nearby Ponca City and Stillwater.
Jeff says the dinner from the deviled eggs to the dessert wouldn't have been possible without the work of Oklahoma producers. His creative take on Coq Au Vin made used Vignole wine from nearby Silver Top Vineyard in lieu of red wine. This main entree arrived at our table by platter accompanied by smoke-kissed pods of tender fresh picked okra. The okra was a stand-in for summer squash that played out from the Biaggi's American Heritage Family Farm. These last minute changes are to be expected occasionally when dining Farm-to-Fork.
Bread and dessert were created by Ponca City baker and former home economics teacher Pat Smith. After five courses plus the entertainment and art works by local artists, it was a great evening. I was impressed as our college student servers delivered all that food and drink hefting dishes up and down the stairs throughout the meal. The company was as delightful as the food throughout the evening in this small northern Oklahoma community.
Local in Norman
Tucked away in the southeast corner of the Normandy Shopping Center in Norman is an expansive space called Local. This artfully arranged facility includes multiple areas for family dining to private art gallery-meeting and intimate dining areas under one roof. Just as some restaurants provide valet parking, owner Melissa Scaramucci had a wonderful idea for a family dining experience; she and her schoolteacher sister Abby created “Localville.” The space is well-planned and even licensed with its own menu and a variety of dining and activity options for the younger set while parents are in the restaurant.
In case you're wondering, Melissa's husband Todd is the nephew of Avis's husband Phil or as Melissa put it: “Avis and I both married Scaramucci boys.” Melissa says Avis of Painted Door and Nonna's fame was a great resource encouraging her in the process of creating the restaurant. Melissa says Local wouldn't be possible without the efforts of dedicated Oklahoma producers who often deliver food to their door fresh from their farms. Melissa takes great pride in paying producers their retail price for the foods they bring to the restaurant saying, “I believe in paying what their product is worth.”
Local's featured dessert is an Award Winning Buzz Bomb Cake. This flourless chocolate cake with its brandied apricot ganache and layered with chocolate mousse was named the 2013 Best in Show for the Arts Council of OKC Festival of the Arts.
These three delightful Oklahoma farm-to-fork restaurants are all labors of love and fountains of creativity.
You can find more information online including menus that change with availability. These restaurants continue to support Oklahoma producers by providing a sustaining market for the foods they grow on a regular basis. Dining in these Farm-to-Fork restaurants is a way to enjoy great local farm fresh food while investing in Oklahoma.
805 North Hudson in Norman
2262 W Main in Norman
100 West Grand