From the farm to the lunch counter
ASPEN – In the movement toward locally sourced, thoughtfully produced food, a question that recurs is “How inclusive is this movement?” Is farm-to-table a luxury concept, or can it actually reach those who have to consider the cost of simply putting food on the table?Rob Evans, a chef and restaurateur from Portland, Maine, believes the idea of conscious eating has made swift progress into the mainstream. “It’s not only for the elite anymore,” he said. For evidence, there is Evans himself. Earlier this year, he and his wife, former Aspenite Nancy Pugh, sold Hugo’s, their fine-dining restaurant that earned Evans a spot on Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs list for 2004 and a 2009 James Beard Award for best chef in the Northeast. The reason for the sale was that Evans wanted to devote himself more fully to Duckfat, the sandwich-oriented spot they opened in 2005 in Portland.Duckfat doesn’t represent any kind of compromise. The cuisine remains ambitious: duck confit paninis, turkey with bacon jam, and milkshakes made with crme anglaise, which Evans describes as “like a melted ice-cream base.” The french fries are fried in duck fat – the source of the restaurant’s name – and when the Canadians who frequented the place complained that there was no poutine on the menu, Evans added his version of Canada’s national dish, using local cheese curd and duckfat gravy. The Food Network recently named Duckfat one of the top five sandwich shops.But Duckfat is much more accessible than Hugo’s, where the signature item was a many-course tasting menu that is often priced at more than $100. By contrast, Duckfat’s duck confit panini runs $12, making it the most expensive sandwich on the menu. Duckfat originally served only lunch, but the lines out the door convinced Evans to open for dinner, featuring the same menu of paninis, salads, fries and duckfat beignets.Even with the move downscale, Evans has increased his commitment to locally sourced foods. Last week, Evans injured his knee while erecting a building on the 82-acre farm he owns in western Maine, 30 miles from Portland. The farm features pigs, pickled items and vegetables; the building Evans was working on will house Duckfat’s charcuterie program, with aged hams, salamis and more. The food he produces goes right to Evans’ restaurant and to a second Duckfat that Evans expects to open in Portland within the next two years, this one with more of a pub feel and a strong charcuterie program.”We’re seeing farm food at all levels of restaurants, from Duckfat all the way up,” the tall, rugged-looking 48-year-old said, using a cane to support his body.Evans is in Aspen for Greenalicious, an event designed to make healthful food more readily available. Greenalicious, to be held Tuesday at The Little Nell, is a benefit for the Children’s Health Foundation, an Aspen-based nonprofit dedicated to improving nutrition in schools. Evans, who will prepare chicken heart mortadella and lobster crudo with aged ham dashi, will be joined by chef Robert McCormick and master sommelier Jonathan Pullis, both of The Little Nell, as well as chefs Terence Feury (from Fork, in Philadelphia), Anthony Martin (Tru, Chicago), Takashi Yagihashi (Takashi and Slurping Turtle, Chicago) and pastry chef Lincoln Carson (the Mina Group, San Francisco) in preparing the five-course meal. Music will be provided by violinist Bobby Yang, a former Aspen resident. Evans, who didn’t attend culinary school but learned in restaurant kitchens including the French Laundry in Napa Valley, Calif., and the Inn at Little Washington, near Washington, D.C., said that cooking with fresh, local ingredients came naturally. His parents were from Newfoundland and brought their love of fresh fish with them to Southborough, Mass., where Evans was raised. In Maine, he has found what he believes is an incomparable region for fresh food; he calls the coast of Maine “our shining star.””I never thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to start cooking consciously,'” he said. “It was just that way from day one. It just seemed right.”For Evans, there are many reasons to raise his own pigs, produce his own charcuterie and create relationships with local farmers. It saves energy, his customers get fresher food, and it retains and shows off cuisine that is specific to a region. And at the moment, chefs not cooking this way risk being left behind as a movement geared toward better health, better economies and better food is gaining a foothold from palaces of fine dining to burger joints, sandwich shops and the school cafeteria.”I think it’s moving pretty fast,” he said. “It’s taken hold so quickly that you get criticized if you don’t access what’s local. People want something that was handmade, homemade, crafted. It’s just smart cooking. You get something that’s out of the ground just a few hours and put it on your plate. It’s so obvious to me as a chef, I think I take it for granted sometimes.”firstname.lastname@example.org
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