Who's supplying the great chefs of Texas? (PR)

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May 19, 2010

Who's supplying the great chefs of Texas?

Farm tours give area chefs taste of locally grown products

By: Paul Schattenberg, 210-467-6575

Contact(s): Marilyn Magaro 210-820-0288, marilyn.magaro@texasagriculture.gov

Dr. Connie Sheppard, 210-467-6575, c-sheppard@tamu.edu

SAN ANTONIO -- Thirty-seven restaurateurs, chefs and others interested in locally grown agricultural products took the recent Chef's Farm Tour sponsored by Texas Department of Agriculture and the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

The day-long tour consisted of several stops at and presentations by area agricultural producers: Markley Farms, New Braunfels; Texas Quail Farms, Lockhart; New World Bakery, Kyle; Mandola Estate Winery, Driftwood; Texas Hill Country Olive Orchard, Dripping Springs; and Real Ale Brewing, Blanco.

"The Chef’s Farm Tour began as a way to bring decision-makers for restaurant menus literally into the field to see and taste what is being grown locally and find out how its being grown," said Marilyn Magaro, marketing specialist for the Texas Department of Agriculture in San Antonio.

Texas Department of Agriculture office in San Antonio has been giving such tours for the past four years, Magaro said, and is working toward offering both spring and fall tours for as many as possible of the 44 counties that office serves. The department invites current and prospective members of their GO TEXAN Restaurant Program and selects the locations to be visited. Restaurants with the GO TEXAN designation commit to using Texas-grown products in their menu offerings.

"These tours began in this area but are spreading to other regions of the state," she said. "We have several hundred restaurants throughout Texas that are part of the GO TEXAN program and we feel these tours are one of the advantages of being in that program."

What began as a small group of chefs dedicated to using fresh, local, seasonal products has now grown into a considerable force of chefs, restaurateurs, nutritionists, "food stylists" and others interested in seeking out quality local agricultural products, Magaro said.

"Since both food industry people and producers are busy, we help make the connection between chefs and producers happen and showcase different growers, manufacturers and products on each tour," she said.

Among area restaurants represented at this year’s tour were Biga on the Banks, Don Strange of Texas Inc., Citrus, Bon Appetit, the Hyatt Regency Hill Country restaurants, Welfare Cafe, and Lüke, the John Besh restaurant slated to open in September. Jason Dady and members of his staff who represent five area restaurants - The Lodge at Castle Hills, Bin 555, Tre Trattoria, Restaurant Insignia, and Two Bros BBQ Market - were also on the tour.

"The majority of the restaurants represented on the tour currently participate in the GO TEXAN Restaurant program and display the GO TEXAN logo at their location," Magaro said. "Statewide, there are more than 2,000 GO TEXAN members involved in the food and beverage industry and about 500 members participating in the GO TEXAN Restaurant Program."

"This is my third farm tour," said Mario Estrada, sous-chef for Citrus at Hotel Valencia Riverwalk in downtown San Antonio while visiting Markley Farms. "We were looking at squash blossoms and I was thinking about ways to incorporate them into our menu. There are a lot of locally grown items that we already use in our menu, including squash, baby vegetables and zucchini."

At Texas Quail Farms, tour members were given an overview of facility operations and food quality inspections, and were treated to samples of grilled quail. The farm, which currently hatches about 20,000 quail per week, touts itself as the "only state-inspected quail processing plant in Texas," producing several quail products, including whole birds, semi-boneless partial birds, quail eggs and bacon-wrapped breasts and legs.

"These farm tours are an opportunity for people in the food industry to see how our product is grown and what safety precautions we take to ensure its quality," said Todd Smith, Texas Quail Farms president. "As a small producer we're interested in exposure and Texas AgriLife Extension and the Texas Department of Agriculture help us tremendously in getting exposure of our products to consumers, chefs and restaurants."

Connie Sheppard, an AgiLife Extension family and consumer sciences agent for Bexar County who helped coordinate the tour, said buying locally also provides nutritional and environmental benefits.

"Buying vegetables locally and seasonally provides the consumer with fresh food at the peak of its nutritional value," Sheppard said. "It also helps the environment in that buying locally means less transportation, which means using less fuel and leaving a smaller carbon footprint."

She added that buying locally also benefits area growers and their communities by helping supporting the local economy and helping keep jobs in Texas.

Steven McHugh, chef and business partner of New Orleans chef and restaurateur John Besh, agreed that buying locally is an important aspect of supporting the community in which restaurants operate.

"John is very interested in supporting the communities served by his restaurants," McHugh said. "We're hoping to utilize as many locally produced items as possible in the menu, as well as to give a Texas flavor to one or two of the menu items we'll be offering."

Di-Anna Arias, director of sales and marketing for Don Strange, said the tours are an excellent opportunity for learning more about the food industry and generating new ideas.

"We’re always looking for new menu items and for the inspiration behind them, and these tours are a great way help find that inspiration," she said. "In this industry, you've got to keep things new and fresh, and the tours are a good way to become educated on what's out there in the way of new and interesting items that are available locally."

Magaro said everyone involved benefits from the tours.

"From farmers and ranchers to specialty food and beverage companies, connecting with these chefs provides opportunities for lasting business and personal relationships, and helps provide the spark to ignite the creative energies of our area chefs," she said. "And ultimately, the consumer is able to enjoy the fruits of this labor."

Magaro said the next tour will take place June 8 in Travis County and will that this will be the first time the tour has been offered in that area.

She added that chefs and restaurant owners should contact their area Texas Department of Agriculture office for more information on the Chef's Farm Tour.

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