By Chef Neal Drysdale, Chef de Cuisine
The sun is setting on tomatoes, zucchini squash, and sweet corn, but never fear. Before we can lament the loss of summer’s bounty, we get a call from our friends over at Mountain Roots Farm. The fresh sheet is filled with root vegetables and hearty greens, and the Strater chefs begin dreaming and scheming of all the exciting fall dishes they can feature.
Supporting Local Farms
For Strater Chef de Cuisine Neal Drysdale, supporting Durango area farms is nothing new. He’s been working with Mike Nolan at Mountain Roots for as long as he can remember. It’s this kind of farmer-chef relationship that makes local, farm-to-table food possible.
When the relationship is as long-standing as this one, it’s easy for chefs to crop plan (letting the farmer know which items they’re excited about so they can plant the correct amount of each plant). Over time, farmers become in-tune with the restaurant’s quality standards and how chefs use the product on the menu. In the end, it’s a win-win situation – chefs get produce in the quantities they want, farmers don’t find themselves with an excess of food without a buyer, and the money each one spends stays within the local community.
Supporting local food opens the door for chefs to drive their menus based on what is seasonally available. This type of menu is becoming more and more appealing to customers, who benefit from the fun and exciting options. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the meal is more flavorful and nutrient dense than food that travels hundreds of miles to reach us.
What can you expect to see on fall menus? Farmers begin harvesting storage crops, and some are even going back to old-time root cellars so they can sell these items through the spring. You will definitely see root vegetables like turnips, rutabagas, carrots, onions, Hubbard squash, garlic, storage cabbage, kales and collards, and multiple varieties of potatoes.
If you’re having a hard time getting excited about root vegetables, you may not be alone. Most people don’t eat root veggies in the summer, but it’s their seasonality of that makes them fun. “No one gets excited about sweet corn in December, because you’re like, ‘Where’s this coming from?’” Chef Neal says as he caramelizes, roasts, and glazes some vegetables for me to try. He loves that they’re hearty and durable, holding up well in soups and braised dishes. When cooked properly, they have more depth of flavor than summer vegetables because of their natural sugar content. “They take a little bit longer to cook,” Chef Neal admits, “but they’re fun. They taste like the season.”
In addition to working with Mountain Roots, the Strater Hotel is also proud to work with other local farms, like Fields to Plates, Local Brands Meat for beef and lamb, and Bob Liatch – simply known as Farmer Bob – for Mangalitsa pork.
The Strater Hotel’s local food options might be the best kept secret in Durango. Stay tuned for exciting menu changes involving this amazing product. Come on in, check us out, and see for yourself!