Michigan restaurant puts local first

Six of the top 10 trends of 2012 listed by the National Restaurant Association focus on locally sourcing food and  sustainability.

Many restaurants are adopting a farm to table philosophy, making a conscious effort to use fresh and locally grown food.

Michigan restaurants are following suit, using tasty dishes to remind residents of the state’s agricultural assets.

In this audio report Echo’s Emanuele Berry takes us farm to table with the new restaurant Red Haven.

Script

A demand for locally sourced food

Farmer Adam Montri clears his windshield of frost for the short drive to his hoop houses next door. Montri and his wife own and operate Ten Hens Farm in Bath, Mich., where they grow diversified vegetables year round.

This past year they added new hoop houses. Montri said one of the reasons they needed more space was because of demand from local restaurants.

Red Haven restaurant during prepping hours. Photo by Emanuele Berry

“Probably 80 to 90 percent of our volume moves through restaurants,” Montri said.

He’s seen an increase in restaurants following the farm to table philosophy since 2008. Okemos’s Red Haven, Lansing’s Fork in the Road and Williamston Gracie’s, all purchase produce from Montri.

“Now there are restaurants that are really using that, as a, whether you say it’s a marketing tool or something they believe in or demand that’s there for customers, I think all of those things are true,” Montri said.

Serving up Michigan’s diverse agriculture

One restaurant that buys from Ten Hens Farm is Red Haven. Co-owned by Nina Santucci and Tony Maiala, Red Haven opened in Okemos in October.

After working in restaurants across the country, Santucci and Maiala decided to open their own business. They started with the mid-Michigan based food truck, The Purple Carrot, in 2011. The truck travels around the greater Lansing area, selling locally-sourced gourmet eats.

Co-owner Santucci said one of the reasons they choose to start their business in Michigan is because of the variety of produce, dairy and meat products the state offers.

A dish called “Mash” served at Red Haven restaurant. Photo by Anjana Schroeder

“We knew we wanted to be sourcing local and so, second to California, Michigan’s  the most diverse,” Santucci said. ” So if you’re picking a painter’s palette, this is a pretty good one to start with.”

Santucci has continued to paint with Michigan’s palette in the new restaurant Red Haven.

“Were doing our best to showcase Michigan products start to finish,” Santucci said. “So the décor, almost everything is made from reclaimed barn wood. The food is all locally sourced, so all of the produce, and the meat and the cheeses, pretty much anything that we can get our hands on in Michigan, we’ll use,” she said.

The food at Red Haven is served tapas style, small plates for sharing. The dishes include mashed sweet potato and chorizo croquettes, and a carpaccio of pepper, butternut, apple, sherry and puff rice.

One of her goals is to show customers what Michigan’s agricultural sector has to offer, Santucci said.

“All the stuff you’re eating, it was grown here and you can get this too in your house,” she said. “So the more that we are kind of starting to see what’s available, incorporating it into our daily lives, I mean we can really turn around the way that the agriculture system works in this state little by little.”

A Michigan themed desert at Red Haven. Photo by Anjana Schroeder

 

Hedging bets with local food systems

There is limited research addressing the environmental benefits of the farm to table philosophy, but, Michael Hamm, director of Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems, said it is important to build local food systems because of climate change.

Hamm, the university’s C.S Mott professor of sustainable agriculture, said a lot of the food in Michigan is imported from California and other non-domestic sources.

“We can predict that in 20 or 30 years those places where we get that food from right now, we probably won’t be able to source as much food” Hamm said. “So, there’s part of the farm to table movement, which is helping to provide the basis for a broader array of places where we get food, so that we, in essence hedge our bets against what the changes that are probably coming down the road in the future.”

Hamm said he is ecstatic about the changes he’s seen in the use and accessibility of Michigan food over the past decade.

“I think we live in a fascinating period right now in respect to food, in what farmers are growing, and the time over the year they are growing it and restaurants that are popping up and the diversity of the opportunities we have to enjoy food in restaurants and enjoy food at home, is astounding. So let’s take advantage of it and enjoy the bounty of Michigan.”

Red Haven is at:

4480 S Hagadorn Road,

Okemos, Michigan