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.
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