The concept of Farm To Table is pretty loosely defined and varies from person to person. Most people see the label and assume that any restaurant bearing its name is turning out farm fresh dishes. But as we know, that is not always true.
The debate about Farm To Table and Farm To Fable is one we’ve always publicly stayed away from, choosing instead to let our work and our food do the talking. But more and more, we are seeing other restaurants heading in the “fable” direction, using Farm To Table as a marketing ploy but then not delivering on the promise. Whether consumers choose to look the other way or they just don’t know any better, we’re not sure. But after recently seeing more restaurants using false advertising and misleading marketing to play to people’s interest in Farm To Table, we wanted to explain what Farm to Table means for Garden Kitchen and owners (and Chef) Coral and Russ and to help you spot the difference.
From the day we opened in May 2015, we’ve marketed ourselves with the tagline “Fresh, Sustainable, From Scratch”. Every day since, we’ve done our very best to adhere to this ethos.
For us “Fresh” means local and recently picked; a tomato picked last night has infinitely more taste than one picked a week or more ago and has spent days, or even weeks, ripening in a plastic bag on a refrigerated truck from thousands of miles away. Having a direct relationship with the farms we work with guarantees freshness, the farmers themselves often deliver the food directly from the fields to our restaurant. This freshness can’t be achieved any other way. (We currently source produce from five San Diego Farms.)
“Sustainable” means local and organic when possible, sourcing from as close to home — in this case our restaurant — as possible, and minimizing food travel times and food waste. This doesn’t apply to just our produce & seafood, it also means sourcing our wine and beer locally. While our meat at this point is not local (it’s not cost effective and we’d have to charge way too much to the consumer), we do always source antibiotic & hormone free.
Lastly, “From Scratch” means exactly that- it means we make virtually everything on our menu from scratch. Breads, pastas, ice creams, pie crusts, sauces, dressings, etc. Every fruit and vegetable is scrubbed in house and every dish is seasoned and tasted along the way. We’ve even experimented with making some sausages & cheeses!
There is no “one size fits all” definition of Farm To Table, but for us this cumulatively adds up to what we consider it to be. A direct, weekly, if not daily, relationship with farmers, the freshest food you can find, and prepared in its purest and most basic form. Most importantly, it comes down to a moral obligation to deliver on what we advertise.
What we take issue with is restaurants that advertise this concept and don’t follow through on the promise, effectively a bait and switch tactic on you as the consumer. Not only does it cheat you of the experience you expected, but ultimately it devalues what we do at Garden Kitchen and what our farmers do on their fields. We ourselves have dined at local restaurants that wear the Farm To Table label, but clearly are not delivering on the promise. In our opinion, sourcing local lettuce but all other vegetables from a multi-national vendor doesn’t count. In San Diego we are lucky to have a huge variety of local fruits and vegetables with a wide ranging growing season, which can make spotting local & seasonal a bit more difficult, but when you’re connected with local farmers and know fresh when you taste it, it’s easy to tell the difference.
If you visit Garden Kitchen regularly, you’ll know that 100% of our menu is centered around the fantastic produce we get from local San Diego farms. You’ll see us out talking to customers and being open and honest about what we do. You may have even be lucky enough to meet one of the local farmers or purveyors we work with eating at Garden Kitchen themselves. This is true Farm to Table. We know our farmers’ names, we’ve seen the ground that our vegetables grow from, we can tell you the waters our fish swim in, we’ve visited the vineyards that grow the wine we sell, we know the kids of the local brewers. To have these local farmers, fishmongers, brewers and winemakers enjoying their own product on a plate or in a glass at our restaurant is a true testament to what we do, and is true Farm To Table.
All we ask of you is to do your homework when you opt for a Farm To Table restaurant. It’s you as the consumer who can hold the “Farm To Fable” restaurants accountable. If you truly care about the food you’re eating, next time you go out to eat or look at a menu online, ask yourself these questions…
Does the menu advertise which farms they work with? Who are their suppliers? Where is the specific fish you are eating sourced from? What from scratch menu items are they known for? Just because they say they support local, doesn’t mean they actually do. If they advertise as a locally sourced restaurant and have a large menu that never changes, be suspicious.
We want to be clear we have nothing against restaurants who need or choose to supply their products from larger, more stable and cost effective non-local sources. We understand that we are a niche and small operation, requiring much less than other large restaurants. We’ve designed our regularly changing menu concept to specifically be adaptable to the smaller, and sometimes less stable supply that is available locally. To us this is real cooking, working with what is available and adapting when it changes.
Let your taste buds be the judge. Once you’ve started truly eating farm fresh produce, it’s very easy to tell the difference.