Farms & Tables
Making the connection between local farms and local restaurants
Liz Taggart and her team tend to the fields at Amba Farms, where plants like this wasabi arugula are grown specifically for Leslie Lampert's kitchen at Café of Love.
Photos by Rana Faure
“Farm-to-table” once described a nascent, noble movement that championed small-scale farms and promoted hand-to-hand commerce. In recent years, the phrase has been bandied about by less-than-honest players. We all know a restaurant that calls itself “farm-to-table” but takes delivery of Ecuadoran asparagus and Chilean strawberries at the back door.
We asked a half-dozen conscientious farmers and chefs working within a tight radius of Bedford to tell us what “farm-to-table” meant to them—and weren’t surprised that most wanted to distance themselves from a label that had lost its luster.
The consensus was this: food should follow a sure, straight line from field to restaurant, traveling the least distance possible in the shortest amount of time. And a model emerged: the farmer dazzles the chef with the quality and freshness of what she brings to his kitchen, and the chef adjusts his menu to what is truly in season, finding new and wonderful ways to honor the farmer by showcasing her “babies.”
Close collaboration between farmers and chefs has given rise to a sort of “bespoke” growing season, with farmers tailoring their crops—baby hakurei turnips, valentine radishes, even snapdragons—to fit the needs and whims of individual chefs. The beneficiaries of all this back-and-forthing are not only farmers and chefs, but also the lands they till, and the communities they nourish.
from THE FARM
Amba Farms, Bedford Hills
Liz Taggart’s Amba Farms sprawls across four bucolic acres on Wood Road. Her orchard in May was a picture-postcard of blossoms: apple, cherry, peach, plum, apricot, pear, and gooseberry—abuzz with bees from her four hives. Dandelions formed an exuberant yellow carpet on her front lawn. “I don’t weed them,” she says without apology. “They have long tap roots that keep the soil from getting compacted.” For Taggart, sound soil is both a science and an art form; the rich, black dirt in her hoop house—where delectable little greens thrive—looks like crumbled Oreo cookies. In a new thrust this year, she’s sown 48 varieties of edible flowers, among them carnations, hollyhocks, calendulas, and bachelor buttons. At Café of Love, they’ll brighten salads, perfume cocktails, and, when candied, they’ll adorn desserts. “I’m not immune to their beauty,” says Taggart, “but the thing I love most are their healing properties.” (ambafarms.com)
to THE TABLE
Café of Love, Mt. Kisco
Leslie Lampert, the owner of Café of Love, enjoys a tight-knit relationship with her favorite farmer, Liz Taggart—they are in many ways kindred spirits, benefactresses who in business never lose sight of the needs of the larger community. This year, they’re blending their skill sets as they promote Amba Farms as a site for special-occasion events. The first of these, “Lunch Among the Lettuces,” saw guests plucking wasabi arugula and baby red Russian kale from the garden before assembling their own salads in the elegant main house. “Everybody loves a farm,” says Lampert, who likes nothing more than to walk among the growing things that will feed and delight her customers. “It gets my blood pressure down.” (cafeofloveny.com)
from THE FARM
I and Me Farm, Bedford Hills
Mimi Edelman is something of a fairy godmother to the farm-to-table tradition in northern Westchester. An early proponent of close-to-the-land practices, she comes to it honestly, the granddaughter of a Scottish farmer who bred dogs and hunt horses, and the daughter of a horticulturalist who was the groundskeeper on the Greenwich estate where she spent her girlhood. “I grew up rather reluctantly on farm-to-table,” says Edelman. “Everyone was eating Chef Boyardee while we were eating fish out of the Sound and currants from my father’s bushes.” Singlehandedly, Edelman cultivates three acres whose yields go almost entirely to Restaurant North. In a show of commitment, North’s partners advance money to her even before she sows a single seed. “We keep it fresh, sort of like a marriage,” says Edelman, who in winter plots the future season with co-owner and chef Eric Gabrynowicz. “He has me growing parsnips—I hadn’t done that before!”
to THE TABLE
Restaurant North, Armonk
Eric Gabrynowicz says Mimi Edelman bewitches his staff when she sweeps into North with produce deliveries. “They adore her,” he says. “It can be the worst day, and Mimi rolls through the restaurant like sunshine.” Edelman often lingers for “family meal,” a time to share folklore and to educate cooks and waiters about the hard-won harvest, both foraged and farmed, that they’ll present to diners. As for those parsnips—“I’m on a little parsnip kick,” Gabrynowicz says—Edelman has found an Italian beauty called Rapunzel with a willowy silhouette and tapered root. While the parsnips are still tiny, Gabrynowicz will braise and glaze them, leaving them whole with tops attached. “I do butter-and-stock,” he says, using the shorthand known to chefs. “I’m an old-school French guy when it comes to that.” The delicious, glossy result (see recipe here) will no doubt have the fussiest eater willingly eating his vegetables. (restaurantnorth.com)
from THE FARM
Snow Hill Farm, North Salem
When Laura O’Donohue counted her flock in early May, she had 16 lambs on the ground and more to come. A lamb’s life is good on this 140-acre, certified-organic farm on Keeler Road. The wooly newborns frolic in pastures alongside their mothers, guarded by two Italian sheep dogs named Bella and Romulus. Although most lambs are sold for meat in the first year, some ewe lambs are kept for breeding; the occasional ewe who proves disappointing becomes available as mutton. While “mutton” sounds somewhat Dickensian, O’Donohue has found a ready buyer in chef Forrest Pasternack, who covets the full-flavored, fine-grained meat. Snow Hill Farm—a sprawling enterprise with garden, orchard, apiaries, mobile chicken coops, livestock barns, and sustainably managed woodlands—has thrived under O’Donohue’s ten-year stewardship. Farming, she says, comes with a learning curve: Baby lettuces were once ravaged by deer but now find their way onto the salad plate. “The difference in our success rate,” says Donohue wryly, “is a ten-foot fence.” (snowhillorganicfarm.com)
to THE TABLE
Bailey’s Backyard, Ridgefield
Forrest Pasternack came to love farms as a boy, growing up in western Connecticut. “It was the norm to be canning in the summertime, picking our own turkey at Thanksgiving, going out in the field for strawberries when they were perfectly ripe, red through and through,” he says. These early encounters inform Pasternack’s penchant for products with local pedigrees and what he calls “big flavor.” Enter the mutton from Snow Hill Farm. “Their mutton is unbelievable,” he says. “I use it to make a sausage with piquillo peppers, manchego cheese, fennel pollen, tarragon pesto, fresh-baked focaccia, and a reduction of balsamic and maple syrup.” The adventurous Pasternack, who was once chef de cuisine with the BLT Restaurant Group, makes coppa di testa and guanciale from Snow Hill’s Berkshire hogs, which he butchers himself. He also prizes the farm’s green tomatoes, which he fries and serves with chipotle aioli, blue-lavender flower and gooseberry relish; and its Boston bibb lettuces—now off limits to rampaging deer—which he tucks into a salad with a panko-encrusted poached egg, North Country Smokehouse bacon, and New England gorgonzola. (baileysbackyard.com)