Farm-to-Fork brings together Loudoun—both east and west
Say it today and most people will know exactly what you mean: using the freshest, locally produced farm goods and preparing meals that are delicious, nutritious and sustainable for the community.
This change has been ushered along by, in part, the support of local organizations dedicated to establishing relationships between local farms, restaurants and wineries.
Four years ago, Leesburg resident Miriam Nasuti launched Farm-to-Fork Loudoun. Her idea was simple: develop equally beneficial connections between the county's farming community and its burgeoning, diverse culinary scene.
“When I envisioned Farm-to-Fork Loudoun, I saw members being geographically dispersed. I didn’t want to just focus on the bucolic farms in western parts; I also wanted members from where the rooftops are in the east, too,” says Nasuti. “It was also important to have price-point diversity. Yes, we wanted fine, white-linen dining, but also restaurants families could afford to go to. I think we’ve achieved a healthy balance over the years.”
Nasuti added that local farmers, agricultural producers and wineries all benefit from the broadest market possible across the county and state.
In addition to bringing members together for networking opportunities, Farm-to-Fork Loudoun also aggressively promotes an 11-day culinary celebration, from July 23 to Aug. 2, that features menus with dishes using 70 percent of the ingredients from Loudoun County-based farms and agricultural producers.
While this is a creative way to draw the public’s attention to the area’s many high-quality local food and wine products – chefs love the creative challenge of it, Nasuti says – there’s also something deeper going on.
Talk to area restaurateurs and chefs about using locally-sourced food, and you hear the same thing repeatedly: supporting local farms is something they’re committed to year round.
This makes sense given current cultural trends. Thanks to real-time public food concerns, fueled by social media outlets and inspired by award-winning documentaries like “Food, Inc.,” people today want to know the origination of their food.
Restaurateurs, therefore, understand that displaying a chalkboard, or printed list, of locally sourced products truly matters to diners. Thinking globally, acting locally, while an almost quaint expression today, is driving consumers’ real-time decisions about where to shop, dine and drink.
Then, of course, there’s the practical reality that food prepared with freshly-harvested ingredients just tastes better.
Kumar Iyer, owner of Rangoli Indian restaurant in South Riding, has long been a proponent of this thinking. The heart of Indian cooking, he says, involves preparing dishes with only the freshest possible ingredients. He points out this is why we don’t see Indian chain restaurants, no matter how popular the cuisine might be.
“It would be impossible to rely heavily on frozen, mass-produced items to make classic Indian dishes,” Iyer says.
In fact, Iyer and his chef stumbled, quite by accident, on one of his restaurant’s most popular menu items while promoting local produce on a television news shoot, organized by Farm-to-Fork Loudoun. The on-site reporter casually asked him to use some just-picked local okra for a live cooking segment. Iyer happily obliged. His chef sliced the okra on-camera and fried it with freshly made chickpea batter. The dish was such a hit with the news crew, Iyer made it a regular dish on his menu, calling it “Rangoli chips.”
Beyond the 11-day Farm-to-Fork menu celebration, though, Iyer says his restaurant is committed to using local goods year round. For example, his kitchen makes a classic Indian curry using chicken humanely raised at Middleburg’s Day Springs Farm. They also make a braised lamb dish with meat provided by Bluemont’s Checkmate Farms.
Iyer says the exceptional quality of the final dishes justifies the products’ steep cost – something restauranteurs battle every day to seek or maintain profit margins. Working with local farmers also helps address global issues he’s personally concerned about, such as environmental stewardship, sustainability and land-use issues.
“It’s important for my chef and I to do something that betters our and customers’ children’s lives in the long-term,” he says.
Grandale Restaurant and Farm in the community of Neersville, is about as far away from South Riding as you can imagine.
Settled in the foothills of western Loudoun County, it’s situated on a gorgeous rural spread of farmland and vineyards. But the restaurant, headed up by the Culinary Institute of America-trained Chef, Author Clarke, along with owner Nancy Deliso, is also pioneering the farm-to-fork sensibility.
Like Lovettsville’s highly-acclaimed Patowmack Farms restaurant in nearby Lovettsville, Grandale from its inception 10 years ago has focused on using locally- grown produce and proteins.
Deliso says that on any given day at the back door of Grandale one can find vendors showing off a broad range of fresh, locally-produced products, including lettuces, microgreens, seasonal veggies and exotic proteins like heirloom pork.
“We want our customers to have an opportunity to taste the vegetables and meats as our grandmothers ate them, that is, fresh off the farm,” says Deliso. “Sure, it’s easier to buy cheaper products, but we’re committed to taste while supporting our local farmers.”
The restaurant also provides Loudoun ingredients-oriented dishes year round, including a sinfully sounding appetizer called Pig Mac ‘n’ Cheese, which features crispy lardoons at the bottom of a bowl of orecchiette pasta slathered in a white cheddar sauce topped with locally pulled pork.
The second, a dessert, is a Crème Brulee topped with fresh strawberries provided by a local farmer. The dish is completed with a pinch of mint freshly picked from Grandale’s own garden.
Grandale’s also veering into locally foraged foods.
“Every day I’ve got someone beating on my door,” says Chef Clarke. “It’s basically whatever they can find while out exploring in canoes.” He says these include delicious, but rare-to-find, organic items like morel mushrooms, nettles, ramps and fiddlehead ferns.
FAs Chef Clarke prepared for dinner service, he said that evening’s meal included heirloom pork from Creekside Farms, snow pea tendrils and microgreens from Great Meadow Farms, rounded out by a freshly- made apple pie from a nearby baker.
One thing is for certain: today Loudoun residents have a wide variety of dining destinations and options for sampling some of the best foods our small local farmers have to offer.