Gardens are now showing signs of new growth, with seeds you may have planted a few weeks ago now reaching upward, struggling to escape the soil and reach toward the sun. What that means for us is delicious fresh produce on our plates at home, and diners will relish farm-to-table fare in area restaurants, whether it's for takeout due to coronavirus or dining in, albeit at a distance.
Back when farm-to-table food was just a trend, 212 Market was the only game in town offering food using ingredients from nearby growers. Now, you'll find it in countless restaurants around the city and beyond — Public House, Feed, St. John's, Easy Bistro and Stir, just to name a few.
Back before all the self-quarantining and social distancing began — and all restaurants, hotels and resorts were open — I had the pleasure of spending a couple of nights at Barnsley Resort in nearby Adairsville, Georgia (Barnsley is currently scheduled to reopen on June 12.) While there, I experienced a brand new menu in the newly renovated Woodlands Grill and the lovely Rice House restaurant, now under a new executive chef, Nicolas Lebas, a graduate of the Sevigne Culinary Institute in France. Talk about some incredible farm-to-table food, with much of it grown on-site.
Before joining the team at Barnsley, Lebas served as the executive chef consultant for Universal Hospitality Solutions Worldwide in La Quinta, California, where he was responsible for training the culinary team and elevating quality standards. And before that he was at Kimpton Hotel Monaco's Panzano restaurant in Denver, Colorado, and Bull & Bear at Florida's Waldorf Astoria Orlando.
Serving the freshest of seasonal produce is important to him, and, he says, he considers it his highest priority. It's a common sight seeing him out in the expanded Barnsley gardens, checking on what's growing for the week's menu.
"While Woodlands Grill and our catering operations require a larger volume, the specialized menu at the Rice House allows us to focus more specifically on the farm or even garden-to-table ingredients," he says.
Like many chefs, Lebas appreciates building a relationship with local farmers, and lucky for us in the North Georgia and Southeast Tennessee areas, we have plenty from which to choose.
By connecting with local purveyors of meats and produce, Lebas is able to offer many dishes that are not genetically modified and free of antibiotics, both major concerns for today's restaurant patrons.
Buying local, he adds, allows restaurants to serve a more superior product and become more sustainable, while supporting local farmers.
Unlike many trends that come and go, farm-to-table is a concept that many chefs, including Lebas, believe is one that is here to stay.
"At least I hope so," he says. "This movement is creating a better product in all aspects of food sourcing, providing more opportunity for our farmers to grow. It's really going into a sustaining movement beyond a trend at this time. At home, people are going to farmers markets to prepare their own meals for their family and friends. I see more and more single-operator restaurants working with local farms. Beyond farms, this movement extends to sourcing local products like cheese, breads and other products used in the kitchen."
Now that the growing season is here, Lebas' recipe for Tomato Gazpacho is great to make after visiting your local market and bringing home the bounty of the season for a spring meal.
"It's mostly prepared a day in advance, making it perfect for easy entertaining in the spring and summer months," he says.
Spring Tomato Gazpacho
Sweet pickled tomatoes:
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 sprig fresh thyme
2/3 cup water
12 cherry tomatoes
2 1/4 cups plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/2 cucumber, roughly chopped
1/2 red pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1/4 red onion, roughly chopped
10 leaves fresh basil
1 tablespoon cabernet sauvignon vinegar
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons tomato juice
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 handful cherry tomatoes, halved
3 tablespoons fresh English peas
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
Drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
Micro pea shoots
For pickled tomatoes: Prepare the pickled tomatoes 24 hours before serving. Place the vinegar, sugar, thyme and water in a small pan, and place over a high heat. Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat and allow to cool
Prepare an ice bath by placing ice into a large bowl of water. Use a blowtorch to scorch the skins of the cherry tomatoes. When blackened and charred, plunge the tomatoes into iced water to cool and peel off the skins. If a blowtorch is not available, heat a pot of salted water to boil. Cut off the stem and skin immediately surrounding the stem. Gently place tomatoes into the boiling water until the rest of the skin begins to blister and peel. Remove tomatoes from boiling water, and then plunge them into the prepared ice bath.
Place the peeled tomatoes in a bowl or container. Pour the cooled, pickling liquid over the tomatoes. Cover and leave to pickle for 24 hours.
Prepare the gazpacho (best if made a day in advance): Place all the gazpacho ingredients except the tomato juice in a large bowl, and mix well. Cover and leave to infuse overnight
The next morning, transfer the gazpacho to a blender, and blitz together until thoroughly combined. Pass through a fine sieve to ensure it is completely smooth. Add tomato juice to your desired consistency to form a pourable soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper; chill in the refrigerator until ready to garnish and serve.
To serve: Pour the soup into deep serving dishes, and swirl a drizzle of olive oil over surface. Drain the pickled tomatoes from the liquid. Place two in each dish along with the halves of fresh cherry tomato. Scatter over top the fresh English peas and toasted pine nuts. Add color with the garnish of basil cress, pea shoots and edible flowers to finish the dish. Makes 6 servings.
Email Anne Braly at email@example.com.