80.3 F
Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, July 3, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesChefs Showcase Locally Grown Food for Farm-Restaurant Partnership

Chefs Showcase Locally Grown Food for Farm-Restaurant Partnership

Dec. 7, 2008 — As the last rays of a brilliant Caribbean sunset dipped behind the hilly peaks of St. Thomas late Sunday afternoon, an intimate dinner party gathered on the terrace at Oceana Restaurant, each person sitting down to a long table laden with white linen, gleaming silverware and crystal-clear glasses, mouths watering and stomachs growling in anticipation of the feast about to come.
The dishes were handed out, the food was served and a toast was made — a toast celebrating the group of local farmers that supplied all the fresh ingredients for the meal, along with the chefs that cooked and helped create a few of the dishes that may soon become a fixture in some of the island's best restaurants. Though the partnership between the two groups is still in its early stages, Sunday's meeting underscored what kind of harmony can come out of a kitchen stocked with local produce and backed by the support of restaurant owners who have committed to working with the farmers to promote and grow the territory's ailing agriculture industry.
Five different restaurants on St. Thomas have pledged to work with about seven or eight local farmers, who in turn have each committed to producing certain crops that will be distributed to the restaurants on a consistent basis, explained Shanna James, co-owner of Barefoot Buddha and a principal of Grow V.I., a local non-profit geared toward the promotion of sustainable agriculture in the Virgin Islands.
Barefoot Buddha, a coffee house and eatery across the street from Havensight Mall, had recently been looking for about a half acre of land on which it could grow its own produce, James said. But the project soon turned into something bigger: a movement that has involved representatives from the University of the Virgin Islands, Fintrac and a group of volunteers going out on the weekends and providing farmers with some much-needed extra sets of hands.
So far the project has produced tangible results, such as giving farmers more access to the commercial markets, and working with them to create business plans and determine what crops can be supplied on a regular basis. Because most of the farmers' produce is grown organically, their yields aren't as high, and they are used to selling each item at the regular farmers' markets at a higher price, James said.
The first phase of the project focuses on the production of five crops: kale, arugula, eggplant, bok choy and swiss chard. They will be rotated among the farms, with two farmers committed to growing each crop. A backup system has also been put in place in case one of the crops fails, James said.
In addition to building the bridge between the farmers and restaurant owners, Sunday's meeting also helped to bring some of the initial questions and concerns to the forefront, such as how the produce will be priced, what kind of varieties of each crop can be used in the restaurants and how the restaurants can be supplied on a consistent basis.
"Any chef would rather work with ingredients that have not really been handled, and one of the greatest things about fresh produce is that it will come literally from the farm to our door," said Patricia LaCorte, Oceana's owner and executive chef. "In addition to the shelf life being much longer when the food is that fresh, the flavor is also much stronger and there's always something about supporting your community that's important. And exposing people from the States to local products — even if you have a contemporary menu, you can add one or two local ingredients to it that changes the dish and really adds another dimension."
Everything in the restaurant's kitchen is fresh — nothing is canned except the juice, LaCorte said. The restaurant also has its own small garden in the back, stocked with crops ranging from chives to strong stalks of sugarcane. Scraps from the kitchen will also be turned into compost and given to the farmers, she said.
LaCorte's countertops overflowed with more fresh produce Sunday, with farmers bringing everything from tomatoes to lemongrass stalks that were turned into a tea that was served with the evening's feast. Several meat dishes also made it onto the menu, including a mild chicken curry and a braised chicken with mustard greens. Many of the chefs created quick, impromptu recipes from the colorful palette of ingredients laid out before them. The meat, nine large Cornish hens, was supplied by Charles Leonard, who can be seen almost every Saturday morning at Market Square, selling fresh honey and eggs.
"I slaughter them on the farm myself," Leonard said. "I have my own plucking machine — it takes about 30 seconds."
Ripe purple eggplants and fresh corn supplied by Dorothea farmer Alphonso Wade III also made it into a roasted-corn-and-eggplant relish cooked up by Leslie T. Gumbs, executive chef at Theo's Caribbean Gourmet Foods. While he cooked, Gumbs broke down the recipe — which was topped with a bright green salsa verde — step by step, showing how to season the corn and flavor the salsa with one lemon, lime and orange.
"It only takes about 15 minutes," he said. "Once the corn is roasted, it just takes a little while to emulsify everything else, and what you're left with in the end is a light, delicious vegetarian tapas dish."
Behind him on the stove was Bordeaux farmer Lucien "Jambie" Samuel, whose blackened clay pot bubbled over with the famous pumpkin soup that makes him the talk of almost every agricultural fair. Try as they might, no one in the group could get the recipe out of Samuel, who joked that he would get his wife Benita to post it on his farm's website sometime in the future.
"It comes out perfect every time," Samuel said after the meal was over.
Wade's produce also caused a stir for Tony Gomez, the new chef at Havana Blue, who said he "couldn't get over" the pungent smell of a bay leaf that he said when broken open carried "a surprising hint of citrus."
"I love it," he said. "It reminds me of my grandma's bread pudding."
As with every meal, dessert topped off the evening, with blueberry carib and strawberry flaxseed cornbread from Wade and homemade macaroons from Source publisher Shaun Pennington. There were barely any leftovers, with many people going back for seconds or carrying home containers filled with some of Wade's cassava chowder, a green banana salad cooked by Bordeaux farmer Theodora Lionel, or some of the Asian salad — lined with popcorn sprouts supplied by June Archibald — created by Havana Blue's new sous chef, George Garcia.
"This to me is a dream — it feels so good," LaCort said. "I can't wait to see what happens next."
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.




Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.

STAY CONNECTED

20,771FansLike
4,757FollowersFollow

FROM FACEBOOK

Comments Box SVG iconsUsed for the like, share, comment, and reaction icons
Load more
Dec. 7, 2008 -- As the last rays of a brilliant Caribbean sunset dipped behind the hilly peaks of St. Thomas late Sunday afternoon, an intimate dinner party gathered on the terrace at Oceana Restaurant, each person sitting down to a long table laden with white linen, gleaming silverware and crystal-clear glasses, mouths watering and stomachs growling in anticipation of the feast about to come.
The dishes were handed out, the food was served and a toast was made -- a toast celebrating the group of local farmers that supplied all the fresh ingredients for the meal, along with the chefs that cooked and helped create a few of the dishes that may soon become a fixture in some of the island's best restaurants. Though the partnership between the two groups is still in its early stages, Sunday's meeting underscored what kind of harmony can come out of a kitchen stocked with local produce and backed by the support of restaurant owners who have committed to working with the farmers to promote and grow the territory's ailing agriculture industry.
Five different restaurants on St. Thomas have pledged to work with about seven or eight local farmers, who in turn have each committed to producing certain crops that will be distributed to the restaurants on a consistent basis, explained Shanna James, co-owner of Barefoot Buddha and a principal of Grow V.I., a local non-profit geared toward the promotion of sustainable agriculture in the Virgin Islands.
Barefoot Buddha, a coffee house and eatery across the street from Havensight Mall, had recently been looking for about a half acre of land on which it could grow its own produce, James said. But the project soon turned into something bigger: a movement that has involved representatives from the University of the Virgin Islands, Fintrac and a group of volunteers going out on the weekends and providing farmers with some much-needed extra sets of hands.
So far the project has produced tangible results, such as giving farmers more access to the commercial markets, and working with them to create business plans and determine what crops can be supplied on a regular basis. Because most of the farmers' produce is grown organically, their yields aren't as high, and they are used to selling each item at the regular farmers' markets at a higher price, James said.
The first phase of the project focuses on the production of five crops: kale, arugula, eggplant, bok choy and swiss chard. They will be rotated among the farms, with two farmers committed to growing each crop. A backup system has also been put in place in case one of the crops fails, James said.
In addition to building the bridge between the farmers and restaurant owners, Sunday's meeting also helped to bring some of the initial questions and concerns to the forefront, such as how the produce will be priced, what kind of varieties of each crop can be used in the restaurants and how the restaurants can be supplied on a consistent basis.
"Any chef would rather work with ingredients that have not really been handled, and one of the greatest things about fresh produce is that it will come literally from the farm to our door," said Patricia LaCorte, Oceana's owner and executive chef. "In addition to the shelf life being much longer when the food is that fresh, the flavor is also much stronger and there's always something about supporting your community that's important. And exposing people from the States to local products -- even if you have a contemporary menu, you can add one or two local ingredients to it that changes the dish and really adds another dimension."
Everything in the restaurant's kitchen is fresh -- nothing is canned except the juice, LaCorte said. The restaurant also has its own small garden in the back, stocked with crops ranging from chives to strong stalks of sugarcane. Scraps from the kitchen will also be turned into compost and given to the farmers, she said.
LaCorte's countertops overflowed with more fresh produce Sunday, with farmers bringing everything from tomatoes to lemongrass stalks that were turned into a tea that was served with the evening's feast. Several meat dishes also made it onto the menu, including a mild chicken curry and a braised chicken with mustard greens. Many of the chefs created quick, impromptu recipes from the colorful palette of ingredients laid out before them. The meat, nine large Cornish hens, was supplied by Charles Leonard, who can be seen almost every Saturday morning at Market Square, selling fresh honey and eggs.
"I slaughter them on the farm myself," Leonard said. "I have my own plucking machine -- it takes about 30 seconds."
Ripe purple eggplants and fresh corn supplied by Dorothea farmer Alphonso Wade III also made it into a roasted-corn-and-eggplant relish cooked up by Leslie T. Gumbs, executive chef at Theo's Caribbean Gourmet Foods. While he cooked, Gumbs broke down the recipe -- which was topped with a bright green salsa verde -- step by step, showing how to season the corn and flavor the salsa with one lemon, lime and orange.
"It only takes about 15 minutes," he said. "Once the corn is roasted, it just takes a little while to emulsify everything else, and what you're left with in the end is a light, delicious vegetarian tapas dish."
Behind him on the stove was Bordeaux farmer Lucien "Jambie" Samuel, whose blackened clay pot bubbled over with the famous pumpkin soup that makes him the talk of almost every agricultural fair. Try as they might, no one in the group could get the recipe out of Samuel, who joked that he would get his wife Benita to post it on his farm's website sometime in the future.
"It comes out perfect every time," Samuel said after the meal was over.
Wade's produce also caused a stir for Tony Gomez, the new chef at Havana Blue, who said he "couldn't get over" the pungent smell of a bay leaf that he said when broken open carried "a surprising hint of citrus."
"I love it," he said. "It reminds me of my grandma's bread pudding."
As with every meal, dessert topped off the evening, with blueberry carib and strawberry flaxseed cornbread from Wade and homemade macaroons from Source publisher Shaun Pennington. There were barely any leftovers, with many people going back for seconds or carrying home containers filled with some of Wade's cassava chowder, a green banana salad cooked by Bordeaux farmer Theodora Lionel, or some of the Asian salad -- lined with popcorn sprouts supplied by June Archibald -- created by Havana Blue's new sous chef, George Garcia.
"This to me is a dream -- it feels so good," LaCort said. "I can't wait to see what happens next."
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.