Chow Town

Chef’s support for local draws applause

Curator’s note: Ryan Brazeal is the chef/owner of Novel, a farm-to-table restaurant on the West Side. Brazeal recently delivered the following address during the Middle of the Map’s Forum, which included a panel focusing on local artisanal foods. His remarks focused on sourcing product from local farmers. His comments drew hearty applause from the audience so we asked to share his thoughts with our Chow Town audience.

There are a lot of reasons to support local farmers in Kansas City. Two of the most important reasons for me are to promote a unique culinary identity for the Midwest, and to recirculate money in the local economy.

Kansas City has a great restaurant and hospitality scene that is rapidly garnering the attention of the United States and beyond. By utilizing local farmers, dairies, butchers and foragers we can provide an indigenous product that you can’t get anywhere else.

With the advent of social media and internet communication, the number of food destinations across the country has multiplied exponentially in the last decade. These days great chefs and lovers of food are making pilgrimages to places like Nashville, Austin, Charleston and Portland Maine, places that wouldn’t have been on the culinary radar 15 years ago.

We have the local producers and restaurants here to put Kansas City on that list. We also have the infrastructure in place to provide local operators with the possibility of creating jobs, paying taxes and bringing in business and tourist money from out of state and keeping it here.

When I moved back to Kansas City two years ago with the goal of opening up my own restaurant, I was overwhelmed with support from the chef and farmer community. The Midwest is known for its hospitality and this venture has been no exception. I went around to local independent restaurants and farmers markets where I was met with open arms. What we need to do is to continue to provide a demand for responsible, sustainable food so that the supply chain can grow.

With the help of the local chef community I quickly learned all about the network of farmers in the surrounding area and what amazing products they provide for this city’s restaurants and consumers. A trip down to the farmers market in May will open your eyes to the amazing products that we have at our disposal.

I look for food that has a sense of time and place. I communicate throughout the year with purveyors to find out what is coming available and how long it will be around so that I can tailor my menu to support them. One of the questions that I get from farmers frequently: “What do you want?” My answer is always “Whatever you have that is at the peak of its season and is as fresh as possible.”

I utilize my training and fundamental techniques that I have honed over the years to make sure that I can make something delicious out of the products available at any given time. I look for real food that is not genetically modified or fertilized with hormones and fed antibiotics. I love it when there is dirt on the roots and maybe I have to pick a little bug off a leaf now and then. This to me is real food. It tastes of the soil that it was grown in and the place that it comes from. You can’t replicate that kind of flavor with asparagus from South America in December.

Here in the Midwest we have a shorter growing season than the east and west coasts or down south. This means we need to really appreciate the bounty that is available in the short time that it is around. We can establish ourselves as a unique culinary destination by supporting some of the truly innovative local suppliers like Linda Hezel of

Prairie Birthday Farms

who propagates native foraged herbs and vegetables on her farm in Kearney Missouri, as well as Jim and Deb Crum of

Crum’s Heirlooms

in Bonner Springs, who were pioneers in the field of growing heirloom vegetables in the Midwest long before it was a national movement.

Then there are the young upstarts like Kristen Wolf of

Windhaven Farms

in Kansas City. Wolf took over after its proprietor Allan Garrison passed away last year and is bringing a new point of view and vitality to the idea of raising and selling animals and meat to local restaurants. This kind of forward progress and thinking is what will keep us contemporary and relevant for years to come on at the national level.

Even if we are working with the same products that are available to consumers all over the country, there is something in the product from the Midwest that you can’t reproduce anywhere else. The flavors that come from the soil and water here and the love and care that goes into the food produced here can’t be replicated.

The second reason that I spend a lot more time, an to be honest, money, working with local farmers promotes the culture of independent farmers in the Midwest. It is easy to go to the grocery store and buy whatever you are hungry for yearround. It is easy to go to your franchise restaurant and order commodity proteins and vegetables from a static menu for a value price and have the check subsidize industrial producers.

When you shop at the local farmers markets, whether in the City Market, Brookside, Westport, Lawrence or any number of urban gardens that are popping up all over the metro area, you are promoting a culture of change that will make a difference not just here, but all over the country as people realize that pollution and genetically modified organisms are a real problem now and in the future. Buying from them helps us do what we can to curb these ills by sourcing local ingredients and keeping the revenue in the local economy.

Please support the artisanal Kansas City producers, from the restaurants to the butchers to the cheesemakers to the vegetable farmers and help make the Midwest and the world a better place for us and for future generations.