Good Food from Good Ingredients

farm to table

KellyJaes1 Chef Brad Hindsley presents his half chicken with parsnip purée, dark chicken reduction and rosemary butter at Spire Farm-to-Fork Cuisine in LaPorte, IN (Photo by Kevin Romeo, Rhino Media Productions).

GOOD FOOD FROM GOOD INGREDIENTS

Local chefs make the most of local farms’ fare

BY KRIS KAUCHAK

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Karen Kennedy and chef Kelly Graff (Photo by David Johnson)

A strong regard for local food, high standards and the ability to skillfully adjust menus in accordance with what nature and farmers provide. These are the qualities that define the farm-to-table dining movement—and make local food pioneer Kelly Graff, executive chef of Kelly Jae’s Café in Goshen, Indiana, so respected and admired by her customers, staff and the farmers who supply her restaurant with their produce.

The Alice Waters of Indiana

Farm-to-table dining was first popularized in the 1970s by Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. In Michiana, Kelly Graff has been working with local farmers to bring the freshest and the best to her customers since 1999, first at Citrus in the Checkerberry Inn (now closed) and since 2008 at Kelly Jae’s Café. Karen Kennedy, her partner and collaborator, says that from the beginning, Graff “wanted to talk to the person actually growing the food to see how it could be better.”

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Kelly Jae’s roasted butternut squash and Honeycrisp apple salad (Photo by David Johnson)

Local farmer Ben Hartman, speaking to me over the phone from his greenhouse, agreed with me that Graff is the Alice Waters of Indiana. Clay Bottom Farm (Goshen, Indiana), which he operates with his wife, Rachel Hershberger, supplies produce to Kelly Jae’s Café and to other area establishments. Hartman likes to work with Graff because she prioritizes fresh food and her menu changes with the seasons and local growing conditions. In addition to cooking with whatever Clay Bottom offers up, Graff also special-orders favorite vegetables like golden beets and garlic from the farm. Clay Bottom has doubled its garlic production to keep Kelly Jae’s supplied with the stinking rose.

Farmer Kate Lind of Sustainable Greens (Three Rivers, Michigan) provides Kelly Jae’s with microgreens, salad mixes and sometimes edible flowers (nasturtiums, violets, pansies) for “special dishes.” Lind echoes Hartman’s sentiment. Graff, she says, cares about fresh and beautiful food. Lind, a pillar of the Goshen Farmers Market, told me that there is a purple potato that she and her husband, James, grow especially for Kelly Jae’s.

From Field to Plate

Former Kelly Jae’s sous-chef Andrew Jones, now of Viand Chef Services (Warsaw, Indiana), speaks with affection about his time at Kelly Jae’s. He fondly remembers times when Kelly “almost carelessly” purchased large quantities of whatever was in season because it was so fresh and beautiful.

At Kelly Jae’s, Jones saw the importance of good connections with local farmers. It was the first restaurant he worked at where he actually saw the farmers come in the back door with their produce. Jones remembers a time when a box with the name Alinea, Grant Achatz’s renowned Chicago restaurant, came into the kitchen from Sustainable Greens. (Both Kelly Jae’s and Alinea benefit from the bounty of that same Michigan farm.)

Karen Kennedy recalls similar memories of pickup trucks backed up to the kitchen door and “Kate and James Lind or Beth Neff carrying in crates of absolutely gorgeous produce that would end up on plates in the dining room just hours later.”

Share Good Food

The menu at Kelly Jae’s is inspired by tapas with an Asian twist. “Share.good.food.” is printed on the menu and both the small and large plates are meant to be eaten collectively. There is a certain dish, however, that devotees of the restaurant may refuse to share: the wasabi-pea-encrusted salmon, a recipe that came to Graff in a dream.

Graff and Kennedy know their customers. They are often in the dining room, enlivening it with their smiles. Kennedy tells of one couple who came regularly to the restaurant. The husband was a strict Brussels sprout-o-phobe, insisting that he hated them and would never ever eat them, no matter what. Once, when Graff knew the couple was coming in, she created an Asian-inspired salad with shaved Brussels sprouts. Karen brought it to the table, presented it as “Asian chopped salad” and everyone had a good laugh when the man came to the realization that the delicious salad contained his reviled vegetable.

A Growing Trend

Since Kennedy and Graff pioneered Kelly Jae’s in 2008, the farm-to-table model has slowly taken root across Michiana. Today many of the best local eateries buy directly from farms like Clay Bottom and Sustainable Greens, but only recently has Michiana seen the emergence of explicitly farm-to-table menus. In 2012, two farm-to-table dining establishments—Spire in LaPorte, Indiana and the American Kitchen in St. Joseph, Michigan—jumped on the trend.

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Cook Heather Englund making sticky buns at the American Kitchen in Saint Joseph, MI (Photo by Angela Baylis)

 

Spire, which describes itself as “Farm-to-Fork Cuisine,” is dedicated to sourcing ingredients as locally as possible. The foundation of Chef Brad Hindsley’s menu is produce, meat and dairy from Michiana farmers. (Hindsley grew up on a farm in the LaPorte area.)

Hindsley’s menu changes often, depending on the availability of ingredients. In the two weeks between my first and second visits to Spire, Hindsley added Farming for Life (Argos, Indiana) to Spire’s list of suppliers. Farming for Life’s owner Joe Gady (also a regular at Purple Porch Co-op in South Bend and the Indianapolis Winter Farmers Market) grows colorful heirloom carrots—deep red, yellow and the orange we all are familiar with—in mineral-enriched soil. His carrots were featured at Spire in a tasty soup with parsnips, leeks and apple cider.

The American Kitchen, which bills itself as a “finer diner,” serves familiar breakfast and lunch (or breakfast for lunch) specials elevated by local ingredients. Pork and Great Lakes fish come from Jake’s Country Meats (Cassopolis, Michigan); poultry and honey come from Otto’s Chicken Farm (Middleville, Michigan); and coffee is roasted at Infusco (Sawyer, Michigan).

At the American Kitchen, questions about ingredients are welcome. General Manager Angela Baylis came to my table during one of my visits to answer my questions and we chatted about sustainable food and how our dollars are votes for the kind of environment and community we want.

Good Food From Good Ingredients

In her book The Art of Simple Food, Alice Waters says, “Remember food is precious. Good food can only come from good ingredients” and “Food should never be taken for granted.” The farm-to-table offerings of Kelly Jae’s Café, Spire and American Kitchen all honor these basic principles. Because of this, we as diners can choose delicious meals made from ingredients grown close to home.

Kris Kauchak was born in Indiana and now lives in Michigan. She appreciates the bounty of the land and the generosity of local growers who share their delicious produce at farmers markets and roadside stands. She writes often for pleasure, seeks new taste experiences with enthusiasm and cooks extemporaneously, with an emphasis on seasonal, local and fresh.

Kelly Jae’s Café
133 S Main St., Goshen, IN
574.537.1027
KellyJaesCafe.com
 
Spire Farm-to-Fork Cuisine
299 W. Johnson Rd.
LaPorte, IN
219.575.7272
SpireFarmToFork.com
 
The American Kitchen
3687 S. Lakeshore Dr., St. Joseph, MI
269.408.1015
The-American-Kitchen.com
TheAmericanKitchenStJoe.Tumblr.com

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