This past spring I traveled to France with a group of students and teachers from the Culinary Arts Department at The Washtenaw Community College. We stayed in the south of France, just to the west of Lyon, in the Côte Roannaise region. The terrain in the region has an abundance of large sloping hills and rivers-- including the majestic Rhine River. This area is ideal for the growing of grapes for wine, mostly the varietal Gamay, and for the growing of fresh produce. We stayed at a château named: Ecole Des Trois Ponts, or The School of the Three Bridges. At the château, we trained with Chef Jean-Marc Villard – a Certified Master Chef.
During our Culinary Arts training sessions, Chef Villard brought in the freshest ingredients from local markets. I was absolutely mesmerized by how much better the food tasted. I vividly remember tasting a piece of parsley that was the most beautiful, deep-toned, green color, and had a shockingly, pure flavor. The quality of the ingredients distinctly impacted the dishes that we prepared with Chef Villard. I discovered that even the average French person is knowledgeable about the food that surrounds them. The fantastic flavor directly relates to the appreciation and respect that the French people display for their food.
As I continue my exploration with food, my goal is to help foster the same appreciation and respect that I observed in France. I believe a better food culture is appearing. Here in Ann Arbor we are surrounded by amazing businesses and organizations that are encouraging people to support locally produced products. The recent surge of locally produced food is a giant step forward in improving the culture that surrounds our food. For the consumer, an improved food culture is creating a better understanding of the relationships among the farmers, businesses, and the economy. I believe more informed consumers will be more conscious of their buying decisions and will act upon them.
Here is a recipe that uses ingredients that can be obtained easily within 100 miles.
Pommes de Terre Roties par Pistou -- Roasted Potatoes with Pesto
-2 lbs of locally grown potatoes, sliced into rounds
-1 lb onions, sliced
-3 cloves garlic
-2 cups basil
-Salt and pepper to taste
-6 oz butter, melted, preferably from Calder Dairy
1)preheat oven to 400 °
2) In a food processor combine basil, butter, garlic, salt and pepper until a thick paste forms.
3) Spread sliced potatoes on a sheet tray and place in oven and cook, flipping occasionally, until brown.
4) Spread pesto over potatoes and return to the oven for 5 minutes.
I undertook the 100-mile diet over this past summer and it was a life-changing experience. First off, it was the first time I ever limited my food intake. It was very distressing to know that I submitted myself to these arbitrary rules. I had the same feeling of disconnection that one goes through when the Internet is not working properly. During this disorienting withdrawal period, I had to adapt to a different relationship with food.
I almost always attempt to eat the best ingredients I can procure. I regularly shop at the finest grocery stores Ann Arbor has to offer-- Arbor Farms, Plum Market, Peoples’ Food Co-op, etc... As a result our family’s refrigerator was full of delicious organic products, shipped from all over the world, which I couldn’t eat.
For the first time, I was developing relationships with the people producing my food. An example is my flour provoyeur Archie at Jennings Bros. Stone Ground Grains. He has a stand at the Ann Arbor Farmers’ Market on Saturdays. The farm is located in Nashville, Michigan which is 97-miles away from Ann Arbor, right by Kalamazoo, just barely within my 100-mile limit. On the farm Archie produces a variety of organic flours, and corn meals -- I special ordered a large amount of flour from him to make all sorts of high-carbohydrate baked goods. Without this source of grain, my carbohydrate intake would have been limited to potatoes and onions.
Furthermore, I developed relationships directly with the food. I had the privilege to eat meat from an animal I met in person. It was a very profound and powerful experience. Now, I have a desire to be more involved with the meat I consume. Also, I helped out on a few farms where I harvested a plethora of produce. One day at Tantre Farm I helped a group of people pull garlic for the whole afternoon -- leaving me with a distinct odor. Tantre Farm, located near Chelsea, Michigan, sells their produce through CSA shares, at various local stores, restaurants, and also at the Ann Arbor and Chelsea Farmers’ Markets.
Here is a recipe for pancakes that I ate almost every morning and night. They are hearty and delicious.
-1 cup flour
-1/2-1 cup milk (depending on how thick or thin you like the batter)
-Butter for the skillet and to top the pancakes
-Honey or maple syrup--to top the pancakes
I used the Jennings Bros. Stone Ground Grains, Organic Hard Spring Wheat Flour, which has spelt, buckwheat and whole wheat flours. I usually used eggs from a local Amish farm, and milk from Calder Dairy. I whipped the three eggs until they were fluffy, added a bit of milk and sifted in the flour. I heated a skillet over low heat with a small amount of butter. I poured in about ¼ cup of the batter per each pancake and spaced them accordingly. I cooked the pancakes until they start to form bubbles on the surface. This indicates that the bottom is golden brown, and then I flip. I top them with more butter and honey or maple syrup. Enjoy!