|Chefs encouraged to buy local|
The Red Stick Farmers Market racks up about 7,500 annual visits from patrons in Baton Rouge—most of them home cooks eager to convert the market's bounty into fresh family dishes. Now the market is hoping to increase participation from another important constituency: local chefs. In January, Ruffino's Executive Chef Peter Sclafani joined the board of directors of Big River Economic and Agricultural Development Alliance (BREADA), the group that oversees the farmers market. BREADA Executive Director Copper Alvarez says Sclafani brings the perspective of both a local foods enthusiast and a realist who understands the challenges chefs face. “His perspective is really important as we try to grow this part of the market,” says Alvarez.
Sclafani shops often at the Thursday market (see this week's Spatula Diaries for more about its new location). Lately, he's been buying ripe strawberries for his balsamic vinegar-marinated strawberries with mascarpone mousse and ladyfingers. He's also sourced fresh fava beans for a recent spring risotto special, and he included Iverstine Farm's Berkshire pork in a braised pork cheek dish he's entering in this weekend's New Orleans Food and Wine Experience.
Sclafani's passion for close-to-the-source foods stems from a childhood lush with backyard summer tomatoes. “My grandfather would take me out with a pocket knife and a shaker of salt,” he recalls. “I still go to St. Bernard Parish every year to get my Creole tomatoes for the restaurant.”
But as stylish as the farm-to-table movement is, the reality of restaurant life is one of slim profit margins, long hours that don't invite leisurely browsing and a public that's not always willing to pay more for boutique ingredients. Still, things are changing in Baton Rouge, thanks to Sclafani, Juban's Chef Jaime Hernandez, Latte e Miele chef owner Luca di Martino, Beausoleil Chef Nathan Gresham and others who've integrated local ingredients into their menus. BREADA hopes to make the interaction between chefs and farmers easier, and is even examining ways to eventually deliver foods directly to restaurants. “We're talking about a lot of things right now,” says Sclafani. “It's an exciting time.”
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