Every Southerner should know that one of the simplest ways to save money and still eat well is to buy in season. It still pays to buy local even in this economy, and my Saturday stop on 30-A is the Seaside Farmers Market, or Palafox Market in Downtown Pensacola.
The majority of eggs, dairy, breads and vegetables I use typically come from within a two-hour radius of my home, and many farmers that I buy from have been recognized for their commitment to sustainable agriculture such as that of Twin Oaks Farms in Bonifay.
I sat down with Chef Ed Reese of Edward’s Fine Food and Wines in Rosemary Beach to get his take on using local produce in his restaurant’s cuisine, and to share his philosophy.
With six children of his own and a successful business, Chef Reese knows all to well about the real-life pressures facing consumers today and states, “If it’s a decision between buying organic at the grocery store or fresh from your local farmers, I always choose local first.”
More often than not, small farmers like that of local Dragonfly Fields primarily use organic growing methods, but many may not have the size or funds to be certified as organic.
Chef Reese says, “ Get to know your farmers. You have to build relationships. I discuss my menu with them, and many times I am inspired by what seasonal products they bring to me. Often the best is set aside for me as I am a repeat customer.”
One of the farming families that Chef Reese and his wife Erin have befriended is that of their neighbor, Jen and Andy McAlexander of Mac Farms. Erin says, “ They literally live by us, and we walk to Mac Farms and put time into farming as well.”
Established in 2009, Mac Farms grows and distributes the highest quality, locally grown herbs and vegetables available in South Walton, Florida, employing the hydroponic style of farming.
With hydroponics, plants are not grown in soil, but instead water is the delivery system for all required nutrients.
What butter is to biscuits, produce is to farmers Jen and Andy, and they are on a mission to share their sustainable gospel by getting their products on the finest plates in South Walton via local chefs like Ed Reese.
Currently Edward’s Fine Food and Wines main purveyor is Mac Farms which supplies the restaurant with local eggs, arugula, mixed greens, fingerling potatoes, squash blossoms, and eggplant to name a few. Chef Reece says, “I just can’t get enough of Jen and Andy!”
Chef Reese says, “In wintertime when it is slow, I talk to them about what produce I’d like to see on my menu, and Jen will plant and grow it. In summer we use a ton of their tomatoes. A popular menu item is our Tomato Salad with Crab and Chili Oil.”
Currently Chef Reese’s seasonal menu item receiving praise is the Braised Pork Belly and Crab Rigatoni with Braised Baby Kale, Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Thyme. Chef Reese says, “Jen grows the most beautiful produce!”
Another favorite menu item available each Thursday is the Fish and Grits. Organic stone ground grits from McEwen and Sons of Alabama are paired with local fresh fish prepared in a light brown butter sauce. Peach tendrils, lemon, a splash of balsamic, and capers are layered over the top, and Chef Reese says, “You must try it, it’s dreamy!
Reese sources some of the restaurants hydroponic lettuce from Cottondale Hydroponic, and the fresh Gulf snapper, grouper, oysters and clams from Water Street Seafood in Apalachicola. Chef Reese says, “. I am taking simple ingredients and combining flavors together to make a great meal, and I strive to buy local, be involved, and make a positive impact!”
Edwards Fine Food and Wine is located at 66 Main Street in Rosemary Beach, Florida, and will offer cooking classes in the fall and winter. They cater offsite and offer private chef services, and private parties at the restaurant. They do not take reservations, and can be reached by phone at 850-231-0550, or by email at email@example.com. Dinner is served Tuesday through Sunday from 5 pm to 11pm, and they are closed on Monday. In the summer, Edward’s is open seven days a week.
Photos: Copyright, Susan Benton 30AEATS.com