Our state’s farming heritage puts our city at the forefront of the farm-to-table movement. Here, some of the culinary pioneers who’ve led the way.
The iconic Joe Huber’s Family Farm and Restaurant has reopened with the next generation of Hubers. “We’re sticking to our roots and keeping to our traditions. We’re bringing new energy and excitement to the family business,” says Terra Huber Mahan, Director of Sales and Marketing.
For many people, a visit to Huber’s is their only experience on a real farm, and it’s a chance to see farm-to-table in action. They’re able to get a feel for farm life and to see how fruits and vegetables are grown as well as how they’re used in the restaurant.
“In the spring and summer, everything is in bloom. It’s a gorgeous atmosphere,” she says. “We’re all about keeping things simple and down to earth, kind of slowing life down a little bit. Families can stroll the grounds and the kids can feed the ducks.” Also part of visits are wagon rides and pumpkin picking. Plus, Huber family members give educational talks about the working farm.
A new spring menu will reflect healthier, lighter options but will still include Huber’s beloved fried chicken, homemade chicken and dumplings, biscuits with apple butter, fresh vegetables, mashed potatoes and gravy, and homemade fruit cobblers. The menu is also available for catered private events.
“What sets Huber’s apart is the actual experience,” says Huber Mahan. “Yes, you get a great meal; everything we cook is from scratch, with recipes that go back generations. But what’s most important is how cool it is to see kids and their parents and grandparents all sharing such a unique experience.”
2421 Engle Road | Starlight, Indiana | 812-923-5255
“Although farm-to-table was a new concept in the early ‘90s, it’s pretty standard now in many restaurants and even homes. Much of that can be attributed to the growth of farmers markets,” says Kathy Cary, owner and chef of Lilly’s Bistro. “When people traveled the world and saw such markets, farm-to-table became more familiar to them and they soon appreciated the farmers markets in Louisville. Farm-to-table is the new way of shopping, the new normal, rather than having food blindly shipped from coast to coast. There’s a story behind every farmer. It’s great to be able to support them and to be part of their community.”
Cary is widely recognized as one of the leaders of the farm-to-table movement in Louisville. When she was first introducing that way of dining, she used her printed menu to go into great detail about area farmers as well as the talking points about each dish. As diners have become more informed and have enthusiastically accepted the role individual farmers and other local purveyors play in Lilly’s repertoire, she has cut back on the verbiage but not on her commitment to the philosophy.
While she works closely with local farmers, she is an accomplished gardener and incorporates much of what she grows into her seasonal menus at Lilly’s. “I have a great space to grow but I have to find someone to help me,” she says. “I grow herbs, squash, peppers, carrots and radishes. Eggplant doesn’t like me. This year I’m hoping for some apples. And, of course, tomatoes. You can’t have too many tomatoes.”
1147 Bardstown Road | 502-451-0447
610 Magnolia takes farm-to-table to a new level. The restaurant’s “yard-to-table” uses the produce that’s grown at an on-site greenhouse and garden beds.
“We started the greenhouse three years ago,” says Chef de Cuisine Jeff Potter. “Root vegetables grew successfully because they can withstand fluctuations in temperature. We tried strawberries but the yield wasn’t sustainable for our menu because of the hot weather.”
Brussels sprouts took over the garden. He learned that radish flowers taste like the radishes themselves, but that if he picked the radish flower, the radish itself wouldn’t grow. That was also true with squash and its blossoms.
“One summer we grew 20 varieties of tomatoes, which was great, but everyone at the farmers market has tomatoes,” he says. “We want to utilize the space for things that other restaurants don’t have so that we stand out a little bit.”
Supplementing produce from 610’s own greenhouse and gardens are numerous products from local farmers. “Being as local as possible means the food doesn’t have to travel as far, so there’s less time for rotting or wilting,” says the chef. “And for meats, you can tell the kind of life the animal led. Also, supporting the farming community is very important to us.”
He emphasizes that simply buying organic doesn’t necessarily equate with farm-to-table and believes that farm-to-table is predicated on having a relationship with the farmers. He works closely with individual producers as well as with the Bluegrass Food Connection, a group of various farmers throughout Louisville, Southern Indiana and Cincinnati.
610 Magnolia Avenue | 502-636-0783
Having farm-to-table at the core of Harvest’s mission gives Executive Chef Jeff Dailey the freedom to change his menu on a whim and when vegetables are at their peak.
“Farm-to-table is becoming the norm everywhere.Instead of Harvest being on the fringes,” he says. “Everybody playing into what our business plan is kind of hurts us, but it’s a good thing for the community and the people. I will always be behind that.”
Harvest’s menu is based on products raised throughout Kentucky and within a hundred-mile radius in Indiana and Ohio. “We used to just buy products from the farmers but now we buy into their philosophies and mentalities,” says Dailey. “That means I’m not buying only from farms; I’m buying from the people at the farms. We get in on the ground floor with them. That broadens their horizons and ours.”
His menu features many dishes in which area purveyors have a delicious presence, such as Kenny’s white Cheddar cheese in the Mile Wide Beer Cheese, Frondosa Farms’ mushrooms in the Grana Arso Gnocchi, and Black Hawk Farms Steak and Kentucky Lake Hot Catfish.
“March is tricky in Kentucky because farmers still have so much in the ground,” he says. “Until the weather starts to change, we’ll still focus more on what we preserve throughout the year, much of which is farm-to-table. Once we’re into Derby is when everything else kicks off. I go to farmers markets every weekend to connect with farmers and usually grab all kinds of things to work into my menus.”
624 E. Market | 502-384-9090
Farmers have become an integral part of the team at Mayan Café, one of the Louisville restaurants that has long supported the farm-to-table movement. The restaurant uses locally, sustainably-farmed ingredients, including meats, produce and cheese, as much as possible.
“Farm-to-table, I think that’s how we should all eat in the first place,” says chef and partner Bruce Ucán. When he talks about his menu, he often refers to his early years growing up in the rural Yucatan Peninsula. “We didn’t have refrigerators, so we bought most food only for the day, and it was all very fresh. When I came here, I missed the fresh flavors I grew up with, so I’ve been connecting with and building relationships with local farmers for the last 10 or 11 years.”
Summer is an exciting season for chefs, but Ucán’s creativity also flourishes in winter, when he makes innovative use of vegetables such as squash. He formerly changed his menu every month, a practice that became unwieldly and impractical, now he offers monthly specials of specific ingredients.
He anticipates continuing to use root vegetables and greens such as kale and spinach during March. April will usher in carrots, potatoes, and salad greens like arugula. Broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini will make their appearance in a big way in May and June. Locally sourced lamb, duck and rabbit will remain in Mayan Café’s lineup of meats that Ucán uses in his signature dishes.
He shares the Mayan Café spotlight with Anne Shadle. “She is my must-have partner,” says Ucán. “We have the same vision and both want to do the right thing.”
813 E. Market Street | 502-566-0651