The Tampa Tribune’s food writer since 2005, Jeff Houck covers the way people live through their food. He also hosts the Table Conversations food podcast and believes that everything crunchy is good.
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Farm To Table, Table To Farm [Tampa Area Chefs Visit Local Farms]
Posted Sep 25, 2012 by Jeff Houck
Updated Sep 25, 2012 at 12:25 PM
I had a chance the other day to once again go on Suncoast Food Alliance’s annual bus tour of local farms.
For the past three years, host John Matthews (above) has rented a bus and driven chefs from Tampa, Bradenton and Sarasota restaurants around to farms in Manatee, Sarasota and Hardee counties from which he buys and distributes local produce.
I went on the tour last year as part of my reporting on why Florida’s restaurants and farms were so disconnected.
The good news this year: Farms and restaurants are working closer than they were a year ago. Farmers who have made those connections are benefiting from the relationships. And Matthews’ distribution continues to grow in scale. And restaurants like Boca Kitchen Bar & Market, Wimauma and Oxford Exchange in Tampa and Indigenous in Sarasota are opening with a focus on using local, sustainable, organic ingredients.
The bad news: Not enough restaurants are sourcing locally to support more farms. And soaring fuel prices are gouging into what little profits Matthews is making.
The system is working, though, which is good. But economic pressures on all involved are severe.
The bus tour is a great way to spend the day.
As a non-chef, I can tell you that it’s always cool to see how the chefs react to one another. There’s always a little bit of, how do you say, butt-sniffing that goes on early. Everyone sort of looks at each other to see if there is anyone there that they’ve worked for and worked with. (Leaving a restaurant on bad terms in the past can make for a long day on a bus.) But eventually some interesting conversations break out about ingredients and ideas. There often is more than a little bit of subtle bragging that goes on. It’s a fun little social experiment.
Without the tour, you wouldn’t see a bunch of honey nerds geeking out about fresh honeycomb…
... or cooks talking about ordering microgreen seeds…
... or a bunch of cityfolk riding a swamp buggy through a pumpkin patch.
To see more of the tour, check out this gallery I shot. Unless you’re afraid of spiders and moths and other assorted insects. Then you might want to just click somewhere else.
For more information, click on each photo.