Monday, September 17, 2012


“Locavore" may have been the 2007 New Oxford American Dictionary Word of the Year, but there's already been a word for those whose diets are restricted to seasonal items grown in their immediate area: That word is "peasant.” ―Brett Martin

I have watched a lot of Gordon Ramsay's profane and angry tirades against restaurateurs, and as I have a brother who has been manager at restaurants for decades, I know that almost everything he does and says is absolutely true and valid.  Gordon only has a week to get through to staff and owners, he's generally a foul mouthed guy to begin with, and it makes good television, so he swears a lot but most of what he tells these restaurants to do isn't just good advice, its basic to running a restaurant.
When Ramsay chews them out for not cleaning, that's a real problem.  When he can't figure out why they're using canned foods, my brother isn't so certain - it depends on the food, the restaurant, and what you're doing with it.  When Ramsay goes nuclear because the service is weak, my brother agrees, but when he has the staff open up with a huge crowd on a totally new menu overnight, my brother is very annoyed - that guarantees disaster.  But its dramatic for television, so what can you do.
But something that comes up over and over in this and other restaurant shows is the need to use fresh, local ingredients.  I'm not one of those who thinks that local food is holy and sacred or that you should eat 'organic.'  Most of that is absurd.  But one idea I've long thought would be great is to open a restaurant with a good chef who goes out every morning to get local ingredients and builds a menu around what he can collect.
Oregon, particularly the Willamette valley, is an unbelievably rich and productive agricultural area.  Settlers would send letters back to their family which were regularly discounted as nonsense and invention about the farming here... until the family got there, too.  Oregon has some of the richest, best growing climate and soil on earth, although the growing season is shorter than in some areas.
As a result, the agriculture here is phenomenal.  And over the last decade, it has become wine country (the whole Northwest has; Walla Walla, Washington has gone from a sleepy small town to an up culture wine boutique town).  Oregon has hosts of apples, cherries, pears, berries, and many other fruits.  Blackberries are so common here nobody buys them in a store.  They literally are not for sale in grocery stores; it would be like buying tap water.  Filbert (hazelnut) orchards are all around us, providing them cheap and fresh.
Venison, salmon, lamb, chicken, and pheasant are all local and plentiful.  Rabbit, pork, and turkey are all grown here locally, as is goat and beef.  Its a bit expensive, but fresh and of higher quality than purchasing from big meat packers.  There are many small, heritage cheese makers and other food producers that would supply excellent quality goods.
So a local chef could craft very tasty, interesting menu with local goods and make it of very fine quality.  And finally I found a place that does just that.  Its called the Silver Grille in Silverton, Oregon which isn't a great name, but it is all local.  The Silver Grill has a local chef who crafts foods from the surrounding food suppliers, and while he makes foods a bit more fancy than I'd want in my place, its what I had in mind.
Here are some samples from the menu:
-Willamette Valley Composite Salad: Field greens tossed with white truffle vinaigrette, croutons and local cucumbers, carrots, squash, tomatoes and green beans
-Smoked Salmon Crostini: House-smoked Oregon Chinook with herbs, cream cheese, and lemon on herb and garlic crostini, topped with pickled onions and cucumbers
-Wild Oregon Sturgeon:  Roasted Red Pepper Beurre Blanc, Saffron Basmati rice and Steffen Farms Vegetables
I don't mean this to be an ad for the place, I've not eaten there so I am not sure how good the food is, but it looks good and its not unusually costly (the main dishes are $18-25 bucks, about what you'd figure for the style). I just wanted to plug a place doing what I always wanted to do.
The Silver Grille is more high end than I want to do, but its a great concept and I love to see someone using it.  I think you could do a more comfort food/family style restaurant with local foods, and while it might be a tad more expensive than getting your goods from Cisco, it would taste a lot better and be an experience people might be willing to pay for.
Every state has their own unique foods available, although some like Nevada might have to import more.  Focusing on your local produce, goods, and specialties, would appeal to people living in the area while benefiting the local economy.   Just another one of those ideas I'd carry out if I had a billion dollars.

1 comment:

Christopher R Taylor said...

I should clarify: they do sell some Oregon blackberries in the stores. There are one or two cans on a shelf with dust all over them. You can literally walk a few hundred yards and find a bush, pick your own, and have all you want and more.

If humanity vanished from the Willamette Valley it would turn into one gigantic blackberry bush.