by Heidi Broadhead
It’s hard to imagine a more positive place in the universe than the rustic main hall of SODO’s Herban Feast on February 9, when area farmers and chefs came together for the 4th annual Seattle Farmer Chef Connection. The event brought 160 producers (farmers, fishers, distributors, and other people who make food) with 140 chefs and other buyers committed to serving local food.
“Our mission was to bring more chefs into it,” says Seth Caswell, chef/owner of the upcoming emmer&rye restaurant, and current president of Seattle Chefs Collaborative, which sponsored the event. “I’d still like to get more conventional Seattle restaurants, but we’re on the right track.”
Celebuchef Tom Douglas and farmer Luke Woodward of Oxbow Farms set the tone for the event with the keynote discussion. The conversation revealed that, while they worked together for a long time, they don’t anymore. They talked about some of the reasons this can happen: Douglas said that restaurants are getting priced out of the market, and Woodward asked restaurants for flexibility and patience when the farmers don’t have exactly what they want that week.
Other farmer-chef connections were forged during the annual “speed-dating” and participants attended panels throughout the day on food certification, challenges of local distribution, and marketing local products. During the panel for in-house charcuterie regulations, Salumi’s Armandino Batali, the Herbfarm’s Keith Luce, and The Swinery’s Gabriel Claycamp put out the call for big hogs (basically: if you’ll grow ’em, we’ll buy ’em!) prompting a few farmers to raise their hands and at least one to run right up to the table. The other panel focused on mobile meat processing units, something that Caswell says has been in demand for a long time.
“We’re proud to be able to call it the Mobile Meat Processing Unit panel,” says Caswell. “Last year, people were saying, ‘We want this. Why can’t we have this? We’re getting there. We need 10 to 12 more, but we’re getting there.”