Tag Archives: farmers

On the Mighty Vine

danny mightyvine 3rdarm tomato plants chicago hydroponic glass house winter grown year round 3rdarm xoco

Danny, one of the partners, took Chef Wil and I on a tour of the MightyVine facility, a huge glass house filled with the seductive aroma of tomatoes. Each tomato plant is grown from a specific hybridized strain, bred for the perfect attributes. They grow to be 40 feet long, bearing fruit at a regular interval so that the tomatoes can be picked at eye level.

danny mightyvine 3rdarm tomato plants chicago hydroponic glass house winter grown year round 3rdarm xoco

Pests are controlled by cultivating beneficial insect populations within the glass house. A computer system controls the system of hydroponic feeding. Bees are released and then contained at rhythm, for the pollination. Danny’s college background was actually in mental health: I let him know that having locally grown summer ripe tomatoes available year round has been a huge boost to my happiness!

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The March of the Strandbeests

wilfredo bravo arthur mullen mightyvine tomatoes tomato xoco chicago spring 3rdarm

Thanks to a large glass house (and Dutch technology) just outside Chicago, our restaurant was able to serve ripe locally grown tomatoes all winter. Chef Wil invited the managers and sous chefs to visit the facility, built and run by the company MightyVine. It must have been a tough weekend, because the only taker was this guy, former manager of Xoco.

wilfredo bravo arthur mullen mightyvine tomatoes tomato xoco chicago spring 3rdarm

We took a pre-spring Monday drive deep into the farmlands of Illinois (3 tolls deep, to be specific.) Once arrived at MightyVine, we were greeted by Renee, who used to work as chef at Frontera Foods, and some of the partners. To protect the tomatoes from contaminants, we donned sterile clothing. Seeing that the last hat had been taken, I put a booty on my head.

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Apple Cider

bishops orchard guilford farm connecticut james beard wine trail 3rdarm arthur mullen apple coffee cake apple pie cider

Bishop’s Orchard is one of the most badass local, seasonal grocery stores in the country, not just in Connecticut. Their orchard encompasses rolling hills alongside I-95 in Guilford, and on the lower, flatter fields adjacent the Bishops family grows other fruits and berries. These are sold in their natural form, and also transformed into award-winning apple cider donuts, apple coffee cake, cinnamon bread, and more by Bishop’s magical bakers.

bishops orchard guilford farm connecticut james beard wine trail 3rdarm arthur mullen apple coffee cake apple pie cider

When I was feeling a little under the weather, due to seasonal changes, Bishop’s heirloom apple cider brought my health back up to 100%. When I am just feeling down, their small stable of alpacas and llamas never fails to brighten my day. Bishop’s is also a producer of wine and hard cider, and a must-stop visit on the Connecticut wine trail. Just try to plan your visit during off hours, as the secret is clearly out!

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Nichols Family

nichols farm frontera grill xoco topolobampo staff trip farm visit 3rdarm arthur mullen hector cotorra nick lloyd nichols hamburger cockscomb apple orchard rick deann bayless

We visited Nichols Farm as a restaurant staff to see where our beautiful fruits and vegetables are grown, and to see the Nichols family 2015 investment in a new distribution center with winter greenhouses, the entire facility powered by geothermal and solar energy.

nichols farm frontera grill xoco topolobampo staff trip farm visit 3rdarm arthur mullen hector cotorra nick lloyd nichols hamburger cockscomb apple orchard rick deann bayless

I rented and drove the 12-seat passenger van that included Chefs Rick and Deann Bayless. We left Xoco at 8AM on a Sunday morning and arrived in Marengo about 9:30AM to begin our tour.

nichols farm frontera grill xoco topolobampo staff trip farm visit 3rdarm arthur mullen hector cotorra nick lloyd nichols hamburger cockscomb apple orchard rick deann bayless

Doreen Nichols welcomed us with water, a farm visit essential. Lloyd Nichols, one of my favorite people, began by showing us the bulletin board used to categorize the many hundred if not thousand of varieties of heirloom species of fruits and vegetables growing in their orchard and fields.

nichols farm frontera grill xoco topolobampo staff trip farm visit 3rdarm arthur mullen hector cotorra nick lloyd nichols hamburger cockscomb apple orchard rick deann bayless

Sons Nick and Todd, with their close friend our chef Hector Cotorra, drove us through the farm on all terrain vehicles, stopping occasionally for the best part – small bites in the field. Nick and Todd are lifelong farmers and when I showed them my bb gunshots, they laughed and said they shot each other with bb guns all the time growing up.

nichols farm frontera grill xoco topolobampo staff trip farm visit 3rdarm arthur mullen hector cotorra nick lloyd nichols hamburger cockscomb apple orchard rick deann bayless

As the afternoon sun blazed overhead (giving me quite the sunburn,) the chefs prepared a summer feast of fruits and vegetables (and hamburgers made from Topolo’s ridiculous grass-fed sirloin) for the staff and Nichols family.

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Carlson’s Fishery

carlsons fishery fishtown leland michigan joy 3rdarm boat

Carlson’s Fishery has been in the hands of the Carlson family for generations. The owner, one of the brothers of the current generation, talked to me for a minute about the volume of fish that comes through their doors. He and his brother had been out on Lake Michigan that very morning at 4AM.

The fishery itself is spotless clean, and right behind the counter is where the action happens. Even though we were there in late afternoon, after any catch had come in, I could still feel the energy of the facility. I really like the idea of buying some fillets while fish are being filleted right there.

The products were top notch. I had never had whitefish pate before, but we ate a whole container in just a couple days. The smoked fish sausage was also a first for me, and it was delicious, a must-try. The beef jerky was really tasty too, although it gave Etta smoky jerky breath for a few hours.

On a nerdier, restaurant-business insider note, I appreciate the way Carlson’s has taken steps to modernize the family brand. The fish logo, and presence on instagram, shows that the owners get it.

I posted a photo of Fishtown online and my friend from growing up in CT, Dave Stender, who I haven’t really talked to in about a decade, commented, “Obviously you got the smoked salmon and white fish!” Carlon’s is legendary.

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End of Winter Farm Dinner

logan eagle post winter 2014 3rdarm

In Alabama, the trees’ red buds are out and some are even covered in pink flowers. Spring is arriving, and the temperature was in the fifties, sometimes even sixties in sunlight. When I got back to Chicago it was 19 degrees F and I was confused.

meyer lemon tart puffed rice 3rdarm

Etta and I went for a romantic end of winter dinner at Lula Cafe. I love going to their farm dinners to mark seasonal change, or to celebrate the height of a particular growing season. In this case, I thought it would help me regain my Midwest bearings.

olive oil panna cotta lula cafe farm dinner 3rdarm

The starter was soft and luscious poached black cod, served in a steamer basket, over sauteed dark greens, with aioli and black garlic. The entree was braised veal cheek: an ingredient my sister would have been happy to know I’d never eaten. She won’t be so happy now. It was falling apart delicious, with aromatic, earthy, crunchy carrots, rich jus and perfectly cooked grains.

braised veal cheeks lula cafe farm dinner 3rdarm chicago

We added Meyer lemon tart to the farm dinner dessert of olive oil panna cotta. The panna cotta was jiggly and creamy, with cookie crunch and pistachio notes, the perfect end for most, but not this beast. My second dessert of Meyer lemon tart was even better, half frozen, with the tang of goat’s milk caramel and candied citrus.

poached black cod 3rdarm chicago lula cafe monday farm dinner

We passed the Logan eagle on the way to the train. It was still light out, a good sign after a 3 course dinner that started at 6:30PM, three days before the vernal equinox.

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Gunthorp Farm

gunthorp farm chicago 3rdarm indiana frontera grill

Chef Hector has been wearing this atomic lime green sweatshirt underneath his faux fur hoodie. Gunthorp Farms humanely raise the chickens and pigs we serve in the restaurant down in Indiana. Greg Gunthorp is a national expert and leader in organic farming. He will be one of the featured farmers on a panel at a sustainability conference at Harvard Law School in March 2014.

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