The back of the menu at Radish and Rye features the farms from which Chef David is currently sourcing those ingredients. It’s a list that varies seasonally, emphasizing the relationships that yield 80-85% locally sourced produce and protein at the peak of the season.
This is one of those “back of the house” tasks of a successful kitchen that many of us never see and don’t realize. While the classic restaurant editorial will feature the chef, the sous, their saucier, sweating a perfect sear over open fire or painstakingly placing a petal atop a delicately composed plate, there is a whole other workflow integral to that tasty meal. It’s a much more quiet process than those action shots in the kitchen: taking the time, perseverance and attention to detail to find good produce and develop lasting relationships with regional farmers.
Local sourcing for a busy chef is practically a an entire second job in addition to the work of the kitchen, and frankly, that’s why you see so many Sysco trucks making deliveries: placing a single order over the phone is s easier, quicker, sometimes cheaper. But at what price? For Chef David, it’s simply not an option, and that’s not the food he takes such pride in serving.
“This is why Squash Blossom Local food was born,” Nina Yozell-Epstein, Squash Blossom Founder & CEO says with a smile: “To mimic that streamlined food supplier model, but with all local ingredients. It’s as easy for chefs as Sysco and the other big operations, chefs make one phone call and receive produce from dozens of small-scale family farms with one payment, and delivery straight to their kitchen door.” It’s the kind of customized solution that makes the local option feasible and affordable.
For Chef David, food has been a life-long passion. An early upbringing in agriculture first fostered that relationship with food. A native of El Paso, Texas, Chef David spent summers working in his family’s fields in Arizona, raising both vegetables and livestock. Following highschool, his route headed north, to the vibrant food scene in Portland, Oregon. His debut in the kitchen found him in the humble position of dishwasher. It’s one of the iconographic stories of the restaurant world – a young woman or man, drawn to a calling, working their way up the stations through desire to learn, passion to produce great food, and dedicated hard work, and it never fails to be inspiring.
In Portland, “Farm to Table” is so abundant and voluminous, it’s essentially a baseline expectation for both diners and chefs, and David found fluency in that world. “I could see a snap pea with certain qualities, at a certain time of year, and know exactly what farm it came from,” he recalls.
That’s a standard he’s working to bring to Santa Fe. It starts with Tuesday and Saturday mornings, when Chef David and his crew walk the short distance from the restaurant to the Farmer’s Market to see and carry back what’s fresh, colorful, tasty. But – to stretch a geographical metaphor beyond its borders – that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“I thought I could do it without Nina,” muses David, “but for the best local greens, herbs, and more, she makes it happen.” Even for a chef willing to sacrifice precious downtime to visit farms and make the weekly pilgrimage to the market, the access and variety that Nina offers through Squash Blossom completes the local sourcing cycle.
“Squash Blossom is here to nurture the relationships between farmers and chefs.” Nina explains, “We want to make it easier for them, and never replace the direct connection. We hold meetings where both parties get together to break bread and ‘production-plan’ so farmers are growing for specific chefs needs. All in all, Squash Blossom saves both farmers and chefs time, money, and reduces food waste on both ends – produce is not grown without a secured market, and will last much longer once it’s delivered because it’s so fresh.”
One of Chef David’s favorite Squash Blossom sources is Three Sisters Farm – “the variety of her green mix is just amazing”. His farm green salad is a tribute to that mix – each varietal of leaf has its own signature flavor, spice and hue.
With edible flowers from Three Sisters, the chef creates a spectacular scallop ceviche. Admittedly, the scallops aren’t anywhere near local, but he sources them directly from a friend in Alaska, providing a scallop that is dry packed (not water logged) and more tender than the bulk alternative from Maine. And I could swear – I don’t know if it’s optical illusion, or emotional response to the palette, but the flowers are far more than mere garnish. I’m pretty sure you can close your eyes and taste the colors in this dish…