Ever since opening applewood in 2004, we’ve maintained a set of guiding principles from which we have never wavered. We wanted a restaurant that served only sustainably-sourced foods, whether grown locally or farther afield, with an emphasis on supporting small farmers who treat their land and animals with respect and consideration.
We have never thumped the slow food bible or otherwise proselytized; we have simply done what we believe in and hoped that folks will notice, enjoy, and perhaps learn something about the importance of responsible sourcing.
Mistakes have most certainly been made along the way. We were serving cod and skate before realizing they were both (at the time) on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s list of overfished seafood. For the first two years, our wine list wasn’t made up entirely of sustainably-sourced wines. It wasn’t until year three that we eliminated commercially-produced spirits from our bar.
In many ways, however, we were (and continue to be) ahead of the game when it comes to truly practicing what we believe. Many restaurants have latched onto the phrases “farm-t0-table,” and “locally sourced,” frequently following those with “whenever possible.” The fact of the matter is that there are precious few other restaurants who believe in sustainable sourcing as an urgency, rather than as a fad. If it is more important to be written up by The New York Times or to grab a spot on some cooking show, then the priorities are not on the food, first and foremost.
By 2009, we had been purchasing whole animals from our sources in Vermont and New Hampshire for five years. Our weekly delivery included a fore-quarter of free-range veal, whole pigs, whole lamb, and whole goats. In the spring of that year, someone wrote an article about eating goat meat that appeared in the Dining Section of the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/01/dining/01goat.html?pagewanted=all). All of a sudden, goat was IN. People wanted to know if we served goat. Other people started serving goat. I remember picking up the paper that day and marveling aloud to Dave, “Hey Honey, guess what? Goat meat is edible! We should try that!” His eye roll was audible from across the room.
We’ve had many such frustrations over the nine years applewood has been around. Time and again, we read about someone or something doing or serving something we’ve been doing or serving for years. Because we don’t use a publicist and because our focus is on food with integrity, rather than our own celebrity, we putter along under the radar, seemingly unnoticed. Now, this is all fine with me since I’m not a fan of being in the spotlight anyway, BUT I do feel like a line must be drawn when the folks who DO like the attention get completely carried away.
This is what happened this past week.
My friend Chris sent me an article printed in this week’s NY Times and I’m 99% sure he sent it just to infuriate me. The article talks about a handful of upscale NYC restaurants which have started trucking their compost to an Amish farm in Pennsylvania in order to feed their rare poultry “high-end table scraps.” The article posits this absurd question, “Can scraps from acclaimed restaurants, where the best ingredients are used, create the table-to-farm-to-table chicken of the future — and the past?” (You can read the full article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/17/dining/in-pursuit-of-tastier-chickens-a-strict-diet-of-four-star-scraps.html?pagewanted=all).
Of course, applewood farm has been using applewood restaurant’s compost since the farm has been a farm. We didn’t think to mention it to the NY Times because, well, it was just simply the right thing to do. And while some of that compost does in fact make it to the chickens, some also makes it to the compost heap and some makes it into the bellies of the pigs.
We reckon that the flavor of these high-end restaurants’ fancy French chickens will likely be really really similar to chicken and will not reduce even one diner to tears. We would love to suggest that, rather than sequester each restaurant’s birds to ensure that the right scraps make it to the right creatures, that maybe they could just let the chickens free-range and eat whatever the heck they encounter in their free-ranging. Because that is how you ensure a delicious bird.
Shhh… Don’t tell the New York Times.