There are well-known Bay Area restaurants that have pioneered and become famous for sourcing sustainably grown food from local, family farms - places like Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Oliveto in Oakland, and Flea St. Cafe in Menlo Park. And in the last couple years, I have become familiar with more restaurants that might not be as famous, but where a relationship with who grows the food and how it is grown is important. For example, Mayfield Bakery in Palo Alto highlights on their menu many of their suppliers that are local farms like Mariquita Farms, Heirloom Organics, and Happy Quail Farms.
I have assumed that these restaurants are few and far between, but I keep finding more and more restaurants that have sourcing from local, family farms as a core piece of who they are - whether it be through restaurant reviews in the Metro, or just by noticing the subtle touches on a menu at an understated restaurant like Chow.
I have been a fan of the Chow family of restaurants for many years, starting with Chow in the Castro and Park Chow near Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. After not visiting Chow for several years, at a recent visit to Chow in Danville, I noticed that many of the items on the menu were organic (pork, chicken, eggs, dairy, juice, etc.) but without being too loud about it. I decided to inquire more about it, eventually having a conversation with their general manager - and I really liked what I heard:
- Understated (not necessarily very "public") commitment to sourcing local, organic and sustainable food from local, family farms
- Emphasis on quality and relationships with suppliers, through well-respected distributors such as Veritable Vegetable and GreenLeaf as well as with some farms directly like Alhambra Valley Farms,
- Realistic and frank perspective on balancing quality/taste and sourcing locally. For example, Chow believes it can get top quality beef from Marin Sun Farms and dairy from Straus Family Creamery, and at the same time has not found a local quality, reliable sustainable pork vendor so they source from a small family farm in Iowa.
- People who are excited and care about not only providing a great product, but also with a commitment to running their business in a way that nurtures healthy relationships with the people that grow and produce the food they are buying
Looking at Chow's menu and website, you would never know how deep their commitment is to local, sustainable food. And even though I know that local + small family farm often equals fresh + delicious, it's heartening to see that philosophy embodied by not only individuals, but also restaurants like Chow.