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chef partnerships/farm dinners

 
steward
Posts: 3601
Location: woodland, washington
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don't know if this has been mentioned yet, but there have been a number of variations on this theme in Western Washington in the last ten years.

chef comes out to the farm and uses produce and/or meat from the farm to make a great dinner.  generally done prix fixe and at a large outdoor table located in a nice part of the farm.  wine to complement the meal is important.

sometimes the chef is also the farmer.  sometimes it's an all day affair.  sometimes it even includes butchering an animal.  a silly name (Plate and Pitchfork, Outstanding in a Field) might help.

could be very simple food and drink, could be very fancy food and drink.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
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i have seen a few do this here in california, from what i hear of people who attended, they loved it! and so did the farmer.
 
pollinator
Posts: 490
Location: Burton, WA (USDA zone 8, Sunset zone 5) - old hippie heaven
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oh man, I'd show up for something like that! (call me anything, just don't call me late for dinner)

and I'm happy to wash the dishes afterward.
 
                          
Posts: 211
Location: Northern California
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I think this has definite marketing applications. For instance, it's good at building a sense of investment in your farm's success in a few self-selected people who are generally of the wealthier set, interested in quality food, and with a tendency to want to contribute to high-status projects. Even if the actual price of the dinner is fairly affordable (which is hard to get to when you consider all your costs), the set-up (going to an unusual place for a special dinner) tends to appeal to people who self-identify as moderately wealthy and seem less accessible to people who self-identify as working class. Later these same folks might be willing to make investments or donations for particular projects. I think in terms of non-profits and donation models, because I've been working in the NPO sector for awhile, and this is a good immediate fundraising tool but also a really good large donor cultivation tool. It's maybe not so good for building a broad base of support among a large number of people of diverse income levels--hosting a local fair on your farm might be a better way of doing the latter.
 
pollinator
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
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Ghost Town Farm, here in Oakland, hosts classes in butchering, pickling, etc. They tend to be co-taught by the farmer and a chef from a fancy gourmet place that went out of business not too long ago.

If you know of good establishments that are about to close down, it might be worth discussing this farm dinner idea, or classes, with the kitchen staff, especially those who aren't quite at the top of the hierarchy, like the sous chefs and chefs de partie.

The demo I went to was free, and quite good. The classes tend to include farm products in the fee, e.g. a live (at the start of class...) rabbit. She also brings in some wildcrafting-types for hide curing and similar.
 
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There is an organization called Outstanding in the Field who has been doing this all over North America for about 10 years, and are in maybe 40-50 towns each year. They were in our region last year but I found the price tag of $175 per person to be out of reach for most in this area (incl myself.) They have many folks who follow them to dinners all over the country.

Personally I've dreamed of setting up something like this, but with a family-style approach.
 
                        
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Garden City Harvest hosts this type of thing in two different ways: one at a price (slightly more affordable...) of $100 where we host a chef at one of our farms, our local vineyard, 10 Spoon, offers wine, and guests eat out in the fields.  It is a magical event, and made with local lamb, veggies, and talent, plus it's organized by a local group. 

We also host a farm party at the same farm, for a more affordable price of $15 that includes a farm fresh meal and a local band.  It ends up being a much larger affair...Another idea we have come up with is hosting a farm meal in the mid to late winter, where we cook with all local food - which seems an impossiblity to many - it's the middle of a Montana winter, where nothing is growing.  Our chef, who is also one of our farmers, cooks up food he has put up for the winter into a simple, family style meal.  We're doing it at a local hall this March 21st, and only charging $15. 
 
Kristen Lee-Charlson
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City Harvest wrote:
Garden City Harvest hosts this type of thing in two different ways: one at a price (slightly more affordable...) of $100 where we host a chef at one of our farms, our local vineyard, 10 Spoon, offers wine, and guests eat out in the fields.  It is a magical event, and made with local lamb, veggies, and talent, plus it's organized by a local group. 



Very familiar with the "Farm to Plate" fundraiser dinner, in conjunction with the Clay Studio - great event but not publicized or typically "open to the public." Because of this it feels somewhat exclusive.

The other, more casual gatherings through GCH, are fun and great for community building but I am interested in something slightly more upscale, featuring more farms and potentially more chefs, throughout the seasons.
 
steward
Posts: 2482
Location: FL
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This idea is an extension of a PYO operation. 

I intend to start a Pick Your Own vegetable operation.  I grow the produce, wishful thinking has people showing up to harvest the crops and hand me sacks of cash.  Experience shows that not all the produce will be harvested, and some people are not able to get into the field.  A farm stand is the next step.  I pick it, charge more, get a small store going selling anything that is not nailed down.

The product in the store is harvested, but not all of it will sell.  Rather than let the stuff go bad, storing it would be desirable.  Pickling, canning, drying, and production of value added goods-soups/sauces/jams/jellies gives me a use for the unsold product.  The store gives me a place to store the product while wait for people to buy it.  In order to process all this stuff, a commercial kitchen will have to be set up, complete with a food license.  Labor will be needed to do the work so I set up canning and cooking classes and get paid to let people do the work for me.  The classroom space would serve double duty for a dining area.

With the kitchen setup, license in place, customers showing up by the busload to buy fresh and canned goods, and with a place to sit and eat,  it is a small step to prepare a dish fresh from the field for people to sample a new vegetable or combination.  I prepare some steamed kohlrabi, for example, to promote the crop and allow people who have never had it to see if they want to take some home for the kids. 

This can grow into a deli section in the store.  How about a salad bar?  Potato salad by the pint.  Baked beans.  Hot and cold items.  Soups, breads, sauces, stews.

The next step is to prepare simple fare to order: sandwiches take little extra equipment.  This would all be made with ingredients grown on the farm and served fresh daily.  Add in tomato juice, carrot juice, vegetable juice blends, whatever else is available to serve as beverages.  Imagination is the only limit to what is possible.

Of course, some people will want the meal TO GO. 

With Chickens laying eggs, breakfast is a given.  Sorghum or maple syrup on the pancakes, strawberry jam for the toast, if I have pigs or find a local farm raising pigs right I get bacon, ham and sausage.  I know of a local farm raising grass fed beef.  There's steak and eggs, cheesesteak sandwiches at lunch and a steakhouse for dinner.

Field >> farm stand >> farm store >> deli >> lunch counter >> full course dinner service

There are more directions this can go that I can talk about.  Behind the warehouse at work there are stacks of firebrick.  If I built a brick oven, Pizza is one possible direction.  Nothing better than brick oven pizza with fresh, all natural toppings, home made sauce, and real cheese.

 
tel jetson
steward
Posts: 3601
Location: woodland, washington
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Ken Peavey wrote:
Labor will be needed to do the work so I set up canning and cooking classes and get paid to let people do the work for me.



in Washington State, those folks would all have to have food handler's permits.  don't know what the situation is elsewhere.  good idea, though.

the rest of your plan sounds pretty solid.  I like the slow accumulation of enterprises, because it allows you to stop expanding services at any time if you reach a level of activity you're comfortable with and even take steps backward if that feels better.

personally, scheduled events with mostly fixed menus are a lot more appealing to me than on-demand food preparation.  a big group of reasonably wine-intoxicated revelers at a table under some fruit trees eating together sounds like a lot more fun than a queue of folks waiting at a register or sitting in a dining room.
 
Ken Peavey
steward
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Location: FL
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I know of a little country store with a sandwich deli.  On Friday nights, the owner makes dinner.  Lasagna with garlic bread and salad one week, sliced turkey and gravy with stuffing, peas and mashed potato the next.  Great food at reasonable prices.  He'll serve about 20 dinners, mostly locals who know of the place.  At about 10 bucks a plate, its a fine boost for his small operation, and reasonable for his guests.

I've got about 20 years behind me working in restaurants, everything from busting suds to GM.  Talking about this sort of thing has my FULL attention.  I gotta say, I'm an awesome cook.

The best food, well prepared, reasonably priced, in a unique and comfortable atmosphere, shared with friends is a recipe for success.  I always thought dining inside a greenhouse would be relaxing.  Perhaps not a germination/production greenhouse, but something can be arranged along those lines.  Keeps the rain off people's heads.  Outdoors is just as pleasant.  A cool summer evening, a light breeze moving through bringing the scent of honeysuckle, fresh herbs, and whatever is blossoming that week.  Considering the mosquito population, a screened area would be inviting.

Back in Maine, in the next town over from where I grew up, a couple of schoolteachers bought an old farm.  They kept on teaching, but converted the old barn into a restaurant.  On Friday and Saturday nights, they serve 20-25 people.  Couples on their anniversary, special events, it was THE place to go on prom night.  He does the cooking, she takes care of the customers, they have some family or part time employees helping out.  Dinner selection was about 4 entrees as I recall.  To get a reservation you had to book it 6 months ahead.  Meals were top notch and so was the check at about 50 bucks a head plus wine.  They made more in 2 evenings than they did 5 days a week teaching drooling kids.  This was several years ago.  I wonder how they are doing.

Down here in Florida, I can grow vegetables all year.  Its slow in the winter, and some plants would need to be grown in the greenhouse.  Setting up an all natural farm, then serving the produce, eggs, and meats year round, in an intimate setting -that would be an achievement to be proud of.

A printed menu would be right out.  With something new ready for harvest each week, the menu would have to be hand written and change with each meal.  It would be possible, even desirable to have a wide range of meals over the course of a year.  New Years Eve sees champagne, hickory smoked Angus prime rib, and pumpkin pie.  The 4th of July gets a clambake (I'll have to buy some ingredients from time to time) and a tub of ice full of homebrew.  Want to have a birthday party for your grandfather and bring the whole family?  What would you like for dinner, best to book far enough ahead that I have time to plant your meal in the field.

Show up hungry.



 
Posts: 27
Location: NW Michigan
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My family has been entertaining a similar idea for some time.  We want to set up an Alaskan style dinner theater on Friday and Saturday nights.  Serving Alaskan King Crab, Red Salmon, Corn Fritters, Homemade Sourdough Bread, Ribs and Steak.  My Father-In-Law (Mike Campbell) would sing a few sets and then I (dressed up like an Old Sourdough) would recite some Robert Service, like The Cremation of Sam McGee, and my wife is a fiddle player with over 20 years experience. Maybe if we were lucky we'd be able to find some other local talent as well.  What a hoot that would be.

My Father-In-Law retires next week and will be leaving Alaska to their retirement home in Florida.  One of the local radio stations in Anchorage had a 1 hour tribute to him as a farewell.
 
 
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