Connecting with the food we eat
By Heather Weller
Photography by Dawn Sanborn Photography
Once upon a time, although not so long ago, people gathered together to share meals prepared with fresh ingredients from their gardens, pastures, woods and ﬁelds. Each fresh ingredient had a story that detailed where the seeds, dairy, livestock and poultry originated. The experience that went into the harvest or collection of the food item was shared and discussed. Each meal was “served with a fresh side” of fellowship, feeling of connection, sense of pride and power of community.
Consumers today are inundated with media messages that focus on health, obesity epidemics and an uptick in the number of cancers and other maladies affecting our population. This means that many consumers are craving the food and stories from long ago. They’re asking questions about where their food comes from, how it was grown and what nutritional value the food can provide for themselves and their families.
Throughout the past few years, the idea of farm-to-table dining has become quite popular. There are several restaurants in Rochester committed to using ingredients sourced directly from local producers and farmers. They proudly serve the dishes with a heavy helping of the stories behind the ingredients.
Chef Christopher Rohe and sommelier Jenna Rohe have owned and operated Prescott’s Grill for 14 years. About nine years ago, they were curious whether they could become self-sustainable and grow produce to be served from their menu. They started small, planting each seed individually by hand. After growing zucchini, radishes and quick-maturing vegetables, their garden quickly sprawled to ﬁve acres of fresh garden goodness. In 2018, the garden hosted over 2,000 tomato plants.
After 30 years in the restaurant industry, Chef Rohe recognizes that food trends come and go. As consumers often look to online shopping and convenience, he is conﬁdent that they will want to physically touch things once again and that the evolution back to understanding origins will return, especially with food items.
Jenna says the interest has already occurred with wines. “People want to know where the ingredients are coming from. They like to know their food is coming from the farm, just a short drive away. They are seeking the stories.”
As seasonality can present a challenge for growing produce in the Midwest, Chef Rohe recommends eating in season and encourages consumers to eat as much as possible when it’s fresh.
La Petit Cafe
Chef Deirdre Conroy of La Petit Cafe in Rochester has always been passionate about utilizing locally sourced food products whenever possible. As a long-time Rochester Farmers Market attendee and vendor, she developed strong connections with farmers and vendors and calls upon them for fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Additionally, Conroy has fostered relationships with local sources for fresh prawns and trout, and an herbal farmer that has crafted an exclusive Irish tea for La Petit Cafe.
It’s imperative for Conroy to stay in constant communication with her sources to plan for the freshest availability of products on her menus. The suppliers have become an integral part of her restaurant and, ultimately, its success.
“I could go on about the carbon footprint, but what I want to know is where the food came from and that it had a good life—that it had its best life. I think about where it’s from. A good product should not have more ingredients than you can count on one hand; and if I can’t pronounce it, I cannot eat it. Expect something different from something familiar,” Conroy says.
Do note that the ingredients aren’t the only locally sourced items you’ll ﬁnd at La Petit Cafe. The dining tables were created using locally sourced wood, and Conroy boasts that her staff is also locally sourced.
FIDDLEHEAD COFFEE COMPANY
Fiddlehead Coffee Company in Rochester strives to drive a successful model of sustainability and service. Their non-negotiable priorities include consumers, earth and community.
Owner Sarah Phelan has partnered with Kristin Pearson of Pearson Organics to provide the freshest ingredients for their menu. The two believe a successful commitment to the use of ingredients sourced directly from local producers boils down to relationships, supporting the small farm and investing in the community. They applaud the idea that partnering with local producers is instrumental in solving multiple social issues and believe this system is one that connects a community with ﬁerce unity.
“A commitment to locally sourced foods isn’t just a fun idea—it’s healthier. The food tastes better and can be used to create more unique cuisine. The things most interesting to eat are harder to grow on a large scale. People need to become more aware of where their food is coming from,” says Phelan.
Pearson recognizes the medical community’s focus on wellness and thinks that once people catch on to a healthier way of eating, it will be easy to continue. Phelan believes there’s a holistic aspect of being healthy and living well. She says that stories create holistic experiences. When something is locally sourced, the item is highlighted on the menu. “Stories give food more depth and ﬂavor,” she says. “It’s nice to say, ‘This was grown by the farmer standing right over there.’”
Someday, not so far away, the people of a Midwest community will gather together to enjoy meals prepared with fresh ingredients sourced directly from local producers. Each fresh ingredient will have a story that details where it originated. The experience that went into the harvest or collection of the food item will be shared and discussed. Each meal will be “served with a fresh side” of fellowship, feeling of connection, sense of pride and power of community.
Heather Weller is a Licensed REALTOR® in MN with Gwaltney Group of RE/MAX Results.