Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Locavore's Dilemma: Is Local the new Organic?

YES- it's true! It seems like "local" has become the new "organic," and, regardless of your food philosophy, it is exciting to see exactly how fast the movement has already spread.

Just read The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, apparently the bible of the locavore, farm-to-table movement, and you may realize that organic may not be enough any more!

Particularly in the deep South, where the warm weather and the growing season can span into late November, eating local seems to come naturally.

Even metropolitan areas can be home to an urban farmscape with heritage chickens and Nigerian dwarf goats... and their even dwarfier kids. (These particular Nigerian dwarf babies, born in the Old Fourth Ward, are around a week and a half old!)

If Atlanta's restaurant tables are any indication, the new obsession with all things local, seasonal, and sustainable is only bound to get bigger. Granted, traditional Southern cooking has always embraced ingredients that could be grown in your average backyard garden, but the new farm-to-table movement is far from being about the typical "meat and three" plate. Farming has gone fine-dining...

Chefs make obvious benefactors for local farmers and numerous chefs have taken to hosting farm-focused events. For example:

*Parish Restaurant in the Poncey Highlands has been sponsoring a Friday Farmer's Series with a Farmer's Menu that changes weekly.

*Eschewing Escoffier, Bacchanalia's prix fixe menu also recently featured Georgia-grown field peas and pole beans (not haricot verts) with its crispy veal sweetbreads and an entree of local berkshire pork loin and pork belly.

*Also, are we crazy to think that Bacchanalia's new sister restaurant, very aptly named Abattoir, is an inside reference to Pollan? (See Chapter 12 of The Omnivore's Dilemma, Slaughter: In a Glass Abattoir. Mere coincidence?) Not only does its menu feature finds from local farms, the interior decor is oddly reminiscent of an old farmhouse, straight out of American Gothic.

No doubt about it, getting fresh, seasonal vegetables from local farmers (especially farmers that you know) is more satisfying than bagging some plain-jane zucchini from the Kroger around the corner.

The brilliant colors of the pattypan squash from AMB's favorite local growers, Joaquin and Jessica Lara of Above & Beyond Farms, inspired this experiment with stuffed summer squash!

Based on the theory that really good food is about 50% visual and 50% flavor...

First, we hollowed out some pattypans, halved a few grape tomatoes, and slathered everything in some good olive oil.

A healthy sprinkling of kosher salt, some cumin, lemon thyme, and a few grinds of pepper... and the veggies were ready for oven roasting.

Once the tomatoes start wrinkling up and become slightly caramelized, stuff the pattypans with some Indian-inspired vegetable biryani (or whatever else your bouche desires)...
The final result? A feast for the King of Lilliput or, more realistically, a great side dish with a roasted chicken. Washed down with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, the stuffed pattypans offered just a few small bites of locally-grown goodness, but we can report that the gratification that came from supporting a local farmer lasted much longer!

(To prove that anyone can farm- the heirloom "cerise orange" cherry tomatoes, pictured above, are from AMB's own "vegetable garden," composed of a bunch of knee-high containers on a condo patio in the heart of the Old Fourth Ward!)