It used to be that eating organic was the ticket to healthy living. But chemical-free doesn’t necessarily connote freshness and quality, and there is an increasing demand to both purchase and consume produce that are not only organic but has also been carefully tended to. As Jen L. Karetnick points out in an article she wrote for Wine News last year:
“Chefs are no longer content to merely have exclusive sources for organic vegetables. They now want to be involved in growing, raising or grooming all of their ingredients, ensuring that every item is picked, caught or slaughtered during the right season, in the best possible provenance and under the most favorable or humane conditions.”
Take D.C.-based chef Robert Weland—executive chef of the Hotel Monaco’s Poste Moderne Brasserie—whose concern for food is evident in all facets of his chef duties. The produce he uses comes from the garden he grows on the patio outside the restaurant, the meat he buys is responsibly raised, and the fish and shellfish he purchases have been ethically caught by a retired marine biologist. Weland has even composed a comprehensive training manual for his staff that sheds light on everything from old wives’ cooking tales to the history of botanicals.
Chef Patrick Feury of Nectar, a restaurant near Philadelphia in Berwyn, Pennsylvania, embraces a similar approach to cooking. The herbs and tomatoes in his dishes come from his on-site garden, and six mornings a week Feury and his kitchen crew pile into a van and drive 90 minutes to Viking Village in Barnegat, New Jersey, where they stock up on scallops, squid, and tuna. On other mornings, Feury checks out the produce at Bucks County Farm in Pennsylvania. “Getting ingredients firsthand, there’s no disconnect. Dealing with a middleman, there’s a breakdown,” says Feury, who likes to serve his customers their veggies whole so they can actually identify what they are eating. “The more the consumers know, the more they fall in love with organic products,” he observes.
Then there is Chef David Pasternack, who started fishing as a young boy and continues to do so today, except now the fish he catches go straight to the kitchen of his restaurant, Esca on Manhattan’s West 43rd Street. When Esca first opened, Pasternack would put his daily catches in plastic bags and haul them from his home in Long Beach to Manhattan via the Long Island Rail Road. (He eventually caved in and bought a truck to ease the transportation process.) As Mark Singer points out in the profile he did on Pasternack for the New Yorker in 2005, “No other restaurant in the city—not now and presumably not ever—offers year-round wild game that has been personally bagged by the chef.”
While he may not be reeling in his dinners, Chef Weland of Poste Moderne does gather his ingredients from a variety of sources, and is willing to invite you along for the trip. Weland hosts a To Market/To Market Dinner every Thursday from April to October, where he accompanies a small group of customers to the Penn Quarter FRESHFARM Market. At the market, he introduces the group to various farmers and talks about sustainable farming practices. They then go back to Poste to watch Weland prepare dishes using the ingredients discussed at the market, which he pairs with organic or biodynamic wines.
Poste Moderne Brasserie isn’t the only D.C. restaurant with a chef committed to sustainability. Check out Equinox, where Executive Chef Todd Gray aims to only use organic products grown within 100 miles of the restaurant. Or go to Hook in Georgetown, where Chef Barton Seaver makes a point of only serving varieties of fish that can reproduce at the rate which they’re caught. His menus change daily to reflect whatever sustainable fish are available and in season, and the restaurant’s website appropriately includes links to the Blue Ocean Institute, Seafood Choices Alliance, and Monterey Bay Aquarium. Who would have thought that eating out could be so fraught with meaning?