Do you know where the apple you are biting into comes from? Is it sprayed with pesticides? Does it come from a box labeled "organically grown," and are you willing to pay a premium for it?
Chef Brian from Trellis, a restaurant in Kirkland, WA, knows exactly where the bulk of his ingredients come from. Why? Because he grows most of it himself. He planted and tends to a 10-acre farm, a place where farming and cooking practices seamlessly intertwine. Cooking through the seasons, cooking with what's at hand — Brian can inspire us home cooks in all these areas.
When hearing about Brian's 10 acres of farmland he cultivates for his restaurant, some of his peers call him crazy. But Brian considers the farm and his work as a chef a pleasure, not a job or "work." He sees the eating experience as a full circle continuum he's striving to experience. He grows seasonal foods, harvests at the peak season, cans or freezes for winter months and then plants starts in early spring — and the cycle continues.
His menu ebbs and flows with the ups and downs of the farm. This means if a certain variety of apples all were eaten by crows or were wiped out by a cold spell in early spring, you won't see that apple on his menu. Conversely, if there is blackberry explosion one year (as there is currently), you can bet this fruit will make its way into sweets, savories and even cocktails, as well as being boiled down, canned and turned into syrup for later months.
Brian grows a myriad of produce: Lettuces, kale, tomatoes of every shape, size and color, winter squash, zucchini, peppers, fennel, eggplant, corn, fresh, colorful herbs, apples, pears, berries and much more. He's studied horticulture as much as he's studied culinary arts, seeing them on a spectrum of equal importance. Many crops are grown in green houses, and there is a constant negotiation of soil, weather patterns and production — the balance is pretty astounding and very inspiring.
It's a truly organic approach to cooking and growing food, a philosophy that really resonates with many of the contemporary food activists/writers/chefs such as Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman and Alice Waters, in particular. It's a return to basics.
Brian grew up cooking alongside his mother and grandmother, and his food reflects this wholesome way of eating. Peaches are paired with sun-ripened blackberries, with a smattering of arugula to top it, a touch of olive oil and vinegar, and that's it. Perfectly ripe heirloom tomatoes need a sprinkle of salt and not much else. A luscious local peach, he believes, needs nothing but a mouth to bite into it and an arm to let the juices run down.
In an era of foams, sous vides, and liquid nitrogen, it's encouraging to speak with a chef who wants to emphasize raw, natural flavors of real ingredients, without much dressing up.
Thanks for visiting with us Chef!
• Visit Trellis Restaurant in Kirkland, Washington: Trellis
(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)