Farm Fresh: Tips to host Your Own Farm-to-Table Event

By Mary Beth Schwartz

As a child, I looked forward to planting a garden every year with my family. We would lovingly care for the land, eager to see those first beans, corn ears and tomato buds. There is nothing like locally grown produce, whether it is from your own raised beds, farm stands or farmers markets. This year, experience the seasonal freshness of nature’s bounty at your own simple summer meal with tips from some of the Lehigh Valley’s top farm-to-table chefs.

Chef Mark Muszynski and his wife Catherine of Curious Goods at the Bake Oven Inn offer a seasonal American menu that focuses on fresh local ingredients. “Our menu changes often. It is driven by what is available from the farmers. Mark has cultivated relationships with several area farms – Jus Kiddin Around Farm, Heidel Hollow Farm, Keepsake Farm, Red Cat Farm, Water Wheel Farm Market, Ledamete Grass Farm, Willow Haven Farm and Holy Root Farm. We source ingredients 5 to 10 miles from the location of the restaurant. We also have a kitchen garden with raised beds where we grow herbs, tomatoes and specialty items,” Catherine says.

Offering farm-to-table cuisine in a casual fine dining atmosphere, Curious Goods at the Bake Oven Inn often hosts dinner events. In July, Mark and Catherine host a Taste of the Shore event, complete with a tomato salad, seasonal soup, salad, lobster bake (with local corn and potatoes), berry dessert and Leiby’s ice cream. In October, there is the Celebration of the Fall Harvest. Cuisine is paired with wines from local Blue Mountain Vineyards and Galen Glen Vineyard and Winery.

According to Catherine, food enthusiasts commonly comment on the freshness of their meat. “We get our beef and pork from Hartmans Butcher Shop. They source their animals locally, kill them and butcher them. The meat is not being shipped via a truck. They also have their own smokehouse.”

To create farm-to-table fare at home, Catherine suggests making it a family affair. “It would be great to design your own farm tour using Buy Fresh Buy Local Greater Lehigh Valley. It is so nice to take a drive in farm country and gather the ingredients. Stop at the local stands. Make it an adventure. There are so many kids that think food just comes in boxes – they can see where real food comes from.”

The Greater Lehigh Valley Chapter of Buy Fresh Buy Local helps residents of Berks, Lehigh and Northampton Counties find, choose and appreciate great locally grown foods, while supporting the farmers and lands that produce them. The organization is a great source for local farms, as well as farmers markets. Producer-only farmers markets are located in Bath, Easton, Emmaus, Macungie, Coopersburg, Allentown, Nazareth, Hellertown, and Bethlehem.

You’ll find Chef Wendy Landiak of Balasia: A Green World Café at the farmers markets in Emmaus, Allentown, Macungie and at Steel Stacks in Bethlehem. You’ll also find her serving organic vegan/vegetarian cuisine with “super fresh, super local” ingredients at The Honey Underground – a weekend vegan supper club. Friday night is a themed dinner, while Saturday night is an organic vegan buffet. All dinners are posted on Facebook. Chef Wendy also is available for in-home personal cooking sessions, as well as catering.

Chef Wendy enjoys using several local farms for ingredients. Some of her favorites include Red Earth Farm, Good Work Farm, Little Peace Farm, Ladybug Gardens, Rodale, Quiet Creek Farm and, of course, her own backyard. When shopping for ingredients, Wendy says to become familiar with the terminology – organic, cage-free, biodynamic, sustainable, pesticide- and herbicide-free, grass-fed or pasture-raised.

For those who want to entertain farm-to-table style, Chef Wendy offers a few suggestions. 1. Plan the menu once the ingredients have been gathered. 2. Use locally grown ingredients, but add global flavor. 3. Celebrate heirloom tomatoes with a sampler platter. Place a different fresh herb on each variety. Top simply with some cracked sea salt. 4. Stay out of the hot kitchen. Instead, serve a whole grain like quinoa, which cooks in 10 minutes. A quinoa pilaf with fresh vegetables and herbs can serve as a base dish.

Coming up August 4, Chef Wendy will be hosting a farm-to-table dinner at The Honey Underground. There also will be live entertainment and a book signing by Robyn Jasko, founder of Grow Indie ( Jasko recently wrote a DIY food book for the modern homestead, Homesweet Homegrown: How to Grow, Make, and Store Food, No Matter Where You Live. Also mark your calendar for another vegetarian and sustainable event, Bethlehem’s Vegfest Street & Foods Festival, September 8.

“The year-round availability of great, fresh foods constantly opens your eyes to new innovations,” says Chef Shawn Doyle of Savory Grille. The restaurant’s menu changes almost daily. “We make everything in house – breads, sorbets, ice cream, desserts, salad dressings, pasta, stocks and soups.”

Chef Shawn uses local sources for such items as organic micro greens, greens, herbs, eggs and grains. “I try to supply customers with the best quality product. We are fortunate to live in a highly agricultural area. There are some great micro dairies, fantastic mushrooms, and weather dependent, melons, corn and tomatoes. We also have local access to cage-free poultry.” Chef Shawn also has a kitchen garden for herbs and edible flowers. “I love being able to go out and just grab the fresh herbs – mint, thyme, oregano, basil.”

Last year, Chef Shawn hosted two farm-to-table events at Savory Grille. “One was a vegan dinner, and the other a lacto-ovo dinner. I drove around to the farms and came up with a menu. Most of the dinner guests wanted to be intrigued. It was like a mystery basket competition.” For those having their own farm-to-table event, Chef Shawn offers these tips. 1. Buy in smaller quantities. 2. Buy the product as close to the event as possible to retain freshness and nutritional value. 3. Watch how the product is prepared – do not overcook. 4. Create a menu where ingredients can be changed out.

“My philosophy has always been to find the best ingredients and not mess them up. In the search for those ingredients, it brings one to the farm-to-table philosophy. Farmers are raising things the way they should be, and the flavors they offer are truly incredible. I choose farm-to-table because it feels right in my heart. That is the way I want to cook,” says Chef Lee Chizmar of Bolete.

Chef Lee changes the menu at Bolete daily to reflect the fresh inventory from selected farmers. Some of the local farms supported by Bolete include Liberty Gardens, Happy Farms, Teprovich Family Farm, Keepsake Farm and Scholl Orchards. Chef Lee also grows a small herb garden. Chef Lee’s creations recently were showcased in Harvest to Heat: Cooking with America’s Best Chefs, Farmers, and Artisans, a groundbreaking cookbook celebrating chefs and farmers who are changing the way we think about food.

At least once a month in the summer, Bolete has its Farmer Dinner Series, where Chef Lee cooks from the bounty of the land. For those cooking farm-to-table at home, he offers some guidelines. 1. Do not get overly ambitious – keep it simple. 2. Scout out where you will get your ingredients – get to know your farmers. 3. For a starter, serve small cherry tomatoes of heirloom varieties with some sea salt, a little olive oil, and some pesto. On the side, include some crusty bread. 4. For a heartier dish, roast a chicken with local beans or potatoes. Add some fresh herbs, garlic, and lemon juice. 5. For dessert, serve local cherries on a bowl of ice with broken chocolate next to it. You also can pair Scholl’s peaches with a fromage blanc from Keepsake Farm. Drizzle the dish with local honey or toasted almonds.

In September, foodies also can look forward to Melt’s Taste of the Lehigh Valley. Attendees can enjoy tastings from over 20 Lehigh Valley restaurants, featuring local meats and produce. In October, do not miss the Lehigh County Open Gate Farm Tour. Most of all, remember to support locally grown foods not just for their taste and health value, but to support family farms, the environment and the local economy. And, enjoy sitting down with your family for your summer farm-to-table dinner.

Editor’s Note: The farms referenced in this article are located in and around the Lehigh Valley.

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