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Eat your greens


Local restaurants are picking fresh veggies from their own gardens to present hyper-local meals.

Vivian Boroff August 3rd, 2011

Any gardener can tell you that there is a great sense of pride and accomplishment when you can pick something fresh from your garden and use it in your own kitchen. Nothing beats the flavor of produce picked at the stage of perfect ripeness, whether it be an heirloom tomato, or the smallest of berries and herbs.

A few months ago, I visited The Herbfarm, a restaurant and inn in Woodinville, Wash., where they grow all of the produce used in the restaurant. Watching the chefs create dishes with herbs and vegetables they had just picked, I wondered if there were any such restaurants in Oklahoma, especially those that utilized space for an on-site garden. I was pleasantly surprised by what was found.

Western and 230 N.E. First, general manager Elena Farrar (pictured) right, watering her herbs and vegetables at The Wedge) decided it was time to dedicate some space for a vegetable garden. Both locations of the pizzeria now have raised vegetable gardens that were constructed with cinder blocks. With the aid of friend Michael Kennedy, Farrar built the raised beds and planted a wide range of vegetables and herbs to be used in the restaurants.

“I have wanted to build a restaurant garden for some time, and when I put out a call for help via Twitter, Mike volunteered to help,” she said. “We use the vegetables in as many of our dishes as possible. The cucumbers and heirloom tomatoes go into many of the salads, and herbs into the pestos,  dressings and sauces.”

The garden also serves another purpose for Farrar. At the Western Avenue location, the garden is in an area of the property where children often come out to play, and she uses it as an educational tool for kids patronizing the restaurant.

“I want children to know where their food comes from, and that the food here not only tastes good, but is good for them.”

Illustrating that point, a smiling little boy ran up to her as she stood near the raised bed, curiously peered at the vegetable garden, then ran off to join his parents.

The dish where The Wedge’s use of the garden is most evident is the antipasto platter, loaded with seasonal vegetables prepared in a variety of ways and paired with cured meats, cheeses and pesto. With its beautiful presentation, it always brings smiles to the faces around the table, as well as “oohs” and “ahhhs” from others wishing that they had ordered it as well.

Embedded in the middle of Bricktown, Nonna’s Euro-American Ristorante & Bar, 124 E. Sheridan, is a favorite fine-dining experience for many. More than 15 years ago, owner Avis Scaramucci decided it was time for the restaurant to have its own farm, and so Cedar Spring Farms was started.

Cedar Spring Farms is a hydroponic farm, meaning plants are grown in nutrient-rich water to ensure the best possible growth and production. The farm’s plan, based on the designs at Disney World’s EPCOT Center, is intended to keep the greenhouses at the optimal temperature and with fertilizer controlled with a series of computer programs.

“We were always looking for the freshest ingredients, and produce picked when it’s not ripe and trucked in from other states just was not up to our standards,” Scaramucci said of her reasons for starting Cedar Spring Farms. “I grew up in rural Oklahoma, with farm-fresh produce on our table every day. When we started the restaurant and were utilizing commercially grown food, we found we missed the good flavors of farm-fresh produce.”

Scaramucci said there was a learning curve to find the best method for utilizing the produce, but she has found methods that work best for her restaurant. “The produce is picked in the mornings, and arrives at the restaurant shortly thereafter, and if a chef finds there is something he needs, we can have it to the restaurant in a matter of minutes.”

She also shares extra produce with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. “It is our way of helping out those who cannot afford to buy fresh produce themselves, and when we see an abundance of tomatoes, we try to preserve them for use during winter months.”

Almost every dish at Nonna’s is touched by something from Cedar Spring Farms. For example, the Cedar Spring’s Side Salad simply bursts with greens, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers and pea shoots from the farm, and the tomato bisque is ripe with flavor.

Diners can truly taste the difference that comes from using fresh, local produce.

Photo by Shannon Cornman

 
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