This time of year, one might think that it is more difficult for the chefs who use the “farm-to-table” philosophy to practice their craft. Not so, says one local chef who is at the forefront of the local sourcing movement that makes dining out around here such a pleasure.
Nemo Bolin is the chef and proprietor of Cook and Brown Public House on the Hope Street restaurant row in Providence.
Bolin and his fellow chefs are actually helping these farmers to extend the season. “It’s a great thing in New England to realize that we can get local, small-production produce basically all year. It’s a bit more difficult in January and February when we can’t get stuff out of the ground but even then we have wintered squash and root vegetables.”
The chef sat at a table in his dining room looking out onto a gray Friday afternoon and spoke of things green and growing. “Right now we have a lot of independent, small farmers growing [vegetables] who are still delivering every week.” Deliveries show up four or five times a week. And on board the trucks from the farm are what used to be called “winter vegetables,” rutabagas, turnips and the like. “We get beautiful baby greens that we use as salad mixes,” said Bolin, looking over mustard greens and baby bok choy. He enjoys cooking with them a bit more than he does the garden-variety mesclun mix or arugula. “People think of fresh herbs as growing only in the summertime but they grow really well right now,” he said. “We get inspired every day when that stuff comes in.”
To what does the chef attribute this new, elongated growing season? A dividend of global warming? Scientifically engineered vegetables? The answer is, none of the above. It is the cooperative effort of motivated individuals working towards a common goal – to get better food grown closer to us to our table.
There is some technology involved. Some local farmers employ climate- controlled, small greenhouses made of lightweight material that facilitates portability. But the new local agriculture depends just as much upon the farmers and producers having a different point of view.
Bolin insists as much as possible that no ingredient in his kitchen be frozen. “We like to have control,” he said. “Those extreme temperatures in the freezer can damage cells in fresh foods. We know if we are making a fresh stock, if we have some extra and we can freeze it, we know when we made it. It’s labeled and dated [in our freezer]. We know what went into it.”