Ten years ago, it was enough for a chef just to know the name of some of the farms that their food came from. Nowadays, most chefs have a good sense of their farms, some have even visited these farms and met the farmers. Why is this important?
Well, to start, chefs buy a lot of food. A good restaurant in a reputable location serving lunch and dinner will likely spend $10,000 to $15,000 buying food every week. Chefs that want the best food want to spend that money wisely. It’s no secret that if you want to make the best food you have to start by buying the best ingredients. Take a look at any episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix (I know you’ve already seen all of them). Every chef on the show tells a tale of where their food comes from and half of them employ a team of farmers in their personal gardens. The farmers maintain the soil, plant the seeds, raise the animals, harvest the plants, bring the animals to slaughter and oversee the entire life of their crops and livestock. They know everything about every food they produce.
Why is it that we have tomatoes in the summer but not the winter, but potatoes year round? Good questions for a farmer. How come my french fries are super crispy on the outside and fluffy in the middle sometimes, but soggy and dark on the outside and mushy in the middle other times? You could ask a chef that, but a farmer would know too. Why is the fat on my pork hard and white sometimes but soft and yellow other times. Again, a farmer would know. Chefs want to spend time talking to farmers, not just so they can access the best food, but so they can learn more about why it tastes the way it does – to gain insight on how to best prepare these foods.
So if you want to make french fries that are always crispy and fluffy and charcuterie that always melts in your mouth, start by talking to the ones who know more about those products. Most farmers have no idea how to take a potato and make the perfect french fry. But they would likely know that cold temperatures cause a root vegetable to turn it’s starch into sugar. Well, the sugar content of that potato will impact its taste and texture when cooked.
Food made with better ingredients will taste better. Chefs that spend their food dollars buying directly from people that grow food will buy better ingredients. And in the process, the best chefs are learning a thing or two about cooking from farmers as well.