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Getting The Fresh Local Dining Experience
Written by Christy Wink
A s a well-established foodie town, Austin is always fully abreast of culinary trends sweeping the nation, and the farm-to-table movement is no exception. It seems every day a new restaurant is popping up offering fresh, locally sourced, minimally processed dishes that focus on quality ingredients and thoughtfully prepared recipes. Many established restaurants are also seeing the value in foregoing cheap processed foods, prepackaged ingredients and factory-farmed produce and livestock in favor of locally sourced products from family farmers,ranchers and food artisans.
Restaurant owners are building relationships with nearby farmers and ranchers to bring in fresh produce and meat, often picked or butchered and served the same day. Chefs go on city-wide hunts to our numerous farmers markets looking for the perfect ingredients to complete their daily menus. They are composting and maintaining their own chicken coops. They are building small herb gardens behind their restaurants, on rooftops or in any available space–all this to not only provide their patrons with the very best culinary experience possible, but to maintain a responsible, sustainable environment. The buzzwords that circulated for so long among exclusive cuisine and fine dining like “organic” and “seasonal” are now joined by more specific, demanding terms like “sustainable,” “hand-crafted” and “artisanal.”
These restaurants are getting back to the core value of providing real food to the community, from the community. They lead with the innovation of their menus and creativity of their dining experiences. In Austin, you can dine in venues that are part restaurant and part farmers market. You can venture to a food truck that is located literally right at the food source: a small, urban farm with al fresco picnic benches under towering pecan trees and twinkling lights. We have all-night diners offering thoughtfully executed brunch classics using all farm-fresh produce. You can even book a stay at a working farm vacation resort that offers hands-on programs and classes and, of course, uses all its own crops in its on-site restaurant and spa
In an age when urbanization has created such a vast cultural disconnect between people and our traditional food sources, the idea of getting back to real, quality ingredients is important, not just to our health, but to our agricultural economy. Farm-to-table is arguably the future of restaurants, so much so that Austin’s Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts has developed an extensive program that engages its students with the local farming and ranching communities. Part of the curriculum includes lessons on the sources of their ingredients and what it takes to produce them, fostering a respect and thoughtfulness for sustainable and ethical food production processes.
The appeal of farm-to-table to Austinites is undeniable: not only are we greatly supportive of our local businesses, we are also notorious locavores who will almost always pick the small, independent establishment serving fresh, local ingredients over other choices. Our restaurants are proud of their locally sourced ingredients, and will typically cite their list of local purveyors somewhere on their website, menu or in-store. When in doubt, just ask. But whatever you do, don’t miss out on what will undoubtedly be a Texas- fresh culinary adventure.