As famous chefs step further outside the kitchen, stamping their opinion on the big bad world, so does their influence. Politics, education, food consumption, food waste, carbon efficiency - all topics that have been touched by chefs in the past years. Another, and perhaps one of the biggest developments, has been the effect that chefs have had on the world of agriculture - with many going to great lengths to form strong connections with local producers and farmers in an attempt to improve their raw produce but also have a lasting effect on the food chain.
The modern day Farm to Table movement we’re currently seeing spread around the world, especially in fine dining restaurants, is credited by many to the work of Alice Waters at her Chez Panisse restaurant in California. Opened in 1970 the restaurant was one of the first places, especially in the US, to focus on building a distinct relationship between the dining room and the soil in which ingredients grow. Nowadays we see a number of restaurants borrowing from or adding to Waters’s original philosophy.
David Kinch at his Manresa restaurant (video below), although recently gutted by fire, has built a wonderful relationship with Love Apple Farms - taking a large percent of ingredients for his restaurant direct from the farm. Both Noma and Amass in Copenhagen have started work on their own gardens, Dan Barber at Blue Stone Farms works closely with a number of local suppliers and is already looking to take ‘farm to table’ to the next level, while Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio has built a brand new garden that sits at the front of his Atrid y Gaston restaurant in Lima and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in the UK has been doing it at The River Cottage for years.
At a recent meeting for the S.Pellegrino Cooking Cup we caught up with a handful of the best chefs in the world to hear their thoughts on farm to table and how the link between restaurants and agriculture is set to develop in the future:
Gaston Acurio - Astrid Y Gaston
“Maybe 20 years ago chess would just care about products, it didn’t matter where it came from, what was the story behind it - we just wanted great products and flavour. Now we have become ambassadors of farmers and much more important than the product is the farmer behind it.
“The truth is we’re taking all the recognition and they’re not. I hope one day there will be a competition that highlights the work of farmers the same as chefs. We’re not better than them, justice will arrive when farmers and chefs are recognised by society in the same ways.”
Andreas Caminada - Schloss Schauenstein
“I think it’s very hard to get very good products and this is the only way to make sure you have great quality ingredients. For us, my neighbour has three tunnels for growing vegetable and we started around two years ago to put in all the micro leaves. Ou problem is that summer is great but winter is a lot harder.
“I think this became a huge thing - this is a little bit the Noma effect - they did a great job in changing minds and going back to local. It’s getting more and more important to find good producers. To have your own farm you have to have the employees and get the chefs into it, planting and growing. I have one chef who is now responsible for the micro leaves and stuff.”
Umberto Bombana - Otto e Mezzo
“You take a carrot out of the soil, you clean and eat it straight away - that’s one thing. You take the same carrot and eat it after three to fours weeks and it’s a completely different thing - freshness is the most important thing. I personally work with a university of professor who has an eco farm and grows vegetables there with natural water and believe me the vegetables are amazing.
“I love to go there and be in touch with nature - this is something I think we miss a lot. This is the real flavour, at least to me, I love to cook with fresh ingredients. Being from Italy we had our own farm, picking the zucchini flower and the rest - we have always had this culture in Italy.”