Young professionals leading the local food movement
By Abby Laub
Editor of BG Magazine/Lexington,a publication of The Lane Report
It is no secret that Central Kentucky residents love farmers markets and are seeking out all things fresh and local as the farm to table movement gains ground.
South African natives and Kentucky transplants Laurentia Torrealba and Craig Devilliers are bringing new meaning to farm to table with their recently opened restaurant, Graze Market and Café (grazelex.com), on the Fayette-Clark County line (150 Combs Ferry Rd., Winchester) that will allow area food enthusiasts to taste fresh ingredients like never before.
“People can come in here and they understand why a local burger might cost a little bit more once they have it,” Torrealba said. “We hear nonstop, ‘Oh my gosh this is the best burger I’ve ever had.’ It’s the flavor. Everyone talks about the flavor. They come to realize that every one of our meats that comes through here never have been frozen.”
And you might even catch a glimpse next door of one of the grass-fed, grass-finished Devons at Brookview Beef, which owns the property where Graze’s quaint 130-year-old building sits. All of the menu’s beef items come from Brookview, which is owned by Lexingtonians Douglas and Jenny Owens. Torrealba owns Colibri Farm in Clark County and raises the restaurant’s lamb.
Chef Devilliers, who formerly was a chef at Bellini’s in downtown Lexington, has the pleasure of preparing the restaurant’s fresh meals in an open kitchen in sight of the customers.
“People will watch me and talk to me when I’m cooking,” Devilliers said, laughing, “I’m like sweating, and throwing pans…I’m getting used to it.”
The idea of Graze is to use the freshest, most local ingredients possible in response to the “big uproar” for local, fresh products grown in healthy and sustainable ways. Graze likes knowing that the products served in their restaurant help support the local economy and keep small farms in business, Torrealba said.
Owens said Brookview Beef has benefited from this mindset.
“I guess people are just overall concerned about what they are putting in their bodies,” he said. “The health I thinks drives it, and then people are just concerned about their local communities. I think people are frustrated that they can’t do certain things on a national scale and so they want to improve it locally — and food is certainly one of those things. Everyone’s got to eat and you might as well support your neighbors.”
Brookview Beef markets about 30 steers each year and has about 90 females on the farm now. Although he sacrifices a little bit of cost per pound selling to Graze, Owens said it is worth it to bring his brand to more people and to help people appreciate the history of the building the restaurant sits in (a post office off the old Pine Grove railroad stop).
“It’s great for developing a brand for me and for Laurentia and her lamb,” Owens said, noting that other restaurants that follow a similar model, like Windy Corner Market, have been very successful. “Every little bit helps. This allows farmers to realize that there are actually true markets for things they raise, and maybe they didn’t know that before.”
Torrealba, who has a master’s degree in animal science from University of Kentucky and previously worked for Alltech, said she always wanted to be a farmer and is happy to have found an opportunity through her lamb. Colibri, which has been raising lamb for about five years, now has a flock of about 50 ewes.
“Sadly is it becoming harder and harder to make a living as a farmer, and you have to be in love with that lifestyle,” she said. “You have to choose that lifestyle and find niche markets, do value added. It’s becoming increasingly difficult because there is just so much that people can pay. You need to find niche markets as a producer.”
The strategies are working in Central Kentucky. Jeff Dabbelt, market manager at Lexington Farmers Market, said the city’s five markets have seen continual growth, and last year’s sales are expected to top $2.4 million.
“Beyond that we do know that we set a record with 80 members last year,” he noted. “They don’t all appear at one time. That speaks not only to volume but an array of products and different business models, from juice and coffee to traditional tomatoes and vegetables.”
He noted that the Lexington Farmers Market also serves as a model for vendors to further their business and open brick-and-mortar venues, like Le Petite Creperie.
Overall, he said, there is an increased, deepening interest in agriculture and the farm to table movement.
“I think CSA (community supported agriculture) growth is a good example,” Dabbelt said. “Lot more farms are offering CSAs. It’s a great way to really learn what seasonal productivity looks like and some of the successes and failures that happen in a given year.”
He speculated that though there is an increase in trendy farm to table dinner events, everything is farm to table, depending on what the definition of a local farm is.
“Local or regional, whatever that definition might be,” he said. “Can you look the owner of that farm in the eye? You can literally walk the farm, meet the animals, look at the plants — or maybe it’s just a conversation about where they
Owens takes it very literally.
“For me it literally means I’m on the farm everyday and I see this calf that I’ve raised and then slaughtered, and I see the steaks and there it is,” he laughed. “So it truly is a literal as it can be. But I think for a lot of people farm to table is just re-identifying with nature and farming in a way that they haven’t in a past.”
Chef Devilliers and Torrealba said they hopes people will come to appreciate new kinds of food.
“We’ve had so many people that have never had lamb who have come in here and have tried lamb burgers and just loved it,” Torrealba said. “It’s becoming a little bit of our signature thing.”
Devilliers, who doesn’t have classical training but was raised on a large South African game reserve and learned how to cook from his mother and grandmother, said oftentimes he teaches people how to prepare meats or use certain cuts that they are not used to cooking at home, and they always are floored by the difference in taste of fresh meat.
“I love proteins and I’m really good with proteins,” he said. “I don’t cook out of a lot of recipe books, I’m terrible with recipes actually. So if it comes to cooking, I like to cook to feel, as opposed to following someone else’s thing.”
A Brookview strip steak cooked very rare to perfection is topped with a simple sauce his mom taught Devilliers when he was young – pepper, bourbon spiked garlic salt and cream reduced to a savory sauce.
He and Torrealba plan this summer to have casual cookouts and festival-like pit parties (think: rotisserie lamb) in the Graze parking lot and invite local farmers to sell products.
In an average week, their lamb burger is a huge seller — and is modestly priced at under 10 dollars. The dinner menu, Devilliers said, is more upscale and Brookview steaks are popular.
“The people who come in here know exactly what we’re about, they’re seeking out local slow food and that’s what we’re all about,” Torrealba said. “They know things might take a little bit longer to cook.”
On a given day the menu at Graze might only feature a few items. A local wine selection and mouth-watering made-in-house pastries also are available.
“It’s becoming more and more possible for more people to eat this way because there is a much bigger demand for it,” Torrealba said. “I think you’re going to see it become much more affordable and more available for everyone.”
The duo are seeking out more native Kentucky products — such as salsify, mushrooms and pawpaws, to name a few — to experiment with and constantly work with farmers to bring new foods for Graze customers.
And when you visit you might find a few South African specialties, such as scrumptious melktert (milk tart) in the mix.
For more information about Graze, visit grazelex.com.
Central Kentucky a fresh food destination
Seeking out farm fresh food is sometimes as simple as meeting farmers at the area’s many farmer’s markets, joining a community supported agriculture program (CSA) or eating at restaurants that prioritize serving local food!
Just to name a few benefits, consumers get food that is fresh, often picked the same day or the day before — plucked at the peak of ripeness and therefore more nutrient dense and flavorful. Eat a tomato from the grocery store in December compared to a farm fresh tomato in July and you’ll feel, smell and taste the difference. It’s almost like eating a different product entirely.
Some of our favorites local food spots
We have compiled a list of some of our favorite locations in the region to score some seriously fresh food that was probably produced less than a couple hours from where you live — whether it is fresh free-range eggs, herbs, cheese, pasta, beef, fruit or vegetables.
Douglas Owens of Brookview Beef said his favorites are Red River Rockhouse (redriverrockhouse.com) in Campton (bonus — it’s only three miles from Natural Bridge State Park) and Table 310 (table-three-ten.com) in the heart of downtown Lexington.
Laurentia Torrealba echoed similar thoughts, boasting about Red River Rockhouse and also Blue Door Smokehouse (facebook.com/bluedoorsmokehouse) with Chef Jeffrey Newman for her favorite local food options.
1. The Weekly Juicery (theweeklyjuicery.com). The juicery serves fresh, cold pressed juice as well as a few limited menu items. During the warmer months, the juice service serves tons — literally — of fresh food in the form of juice.
2. AZUR Restaurant & Patio (azurestaurant.com). Chef Jeremy Ashby says local farmers can be seen backing their trucks up to the restaurant’s back door on an almost daily basis during the growing season and on Saturdays from 9-3 in the spring through fall, AZUR hosts a small farmer’s market on its patio, and some of the goods are used to serve a farm to table breakfast on Saturdays.
3. Stella’s Kentucky Deli (stellaskentuckydeli.com). Both for its charming, cozy location on Jefferson Street and prices that are hard to beat, Stella’s is an ideal location for breakfast or brunch in the summer. But hurry in, the food runs out!
4. Alfalfa (alfalfarestaurant.com). A favorite for the farmer’s market crowd on the weekends, Alfalfa for years has prided itself on its local fare. Don’t miss the fresh blueberry pancakes in the summer and Main Street location that lends itself to a nice downtown stroll to burn off your food.
5. Windy Corner Market (windycornermarket.com). One of those must-bring-your-guests-to-when-they-visit-town locations, Windy Corner Market boasts a laundry list of local producers. It is part of the master Ouita Michels’ restaurant marvels and is situated in an inviting country environment. Michels’ also is chef at Holly Hill Inn (hollyhillinn.com) in Midway, which also offers a range of fresh ingredients from local farmers.
6. Natasha’s Bistro & Bar (beetnik.com). Chef Alex Jenkins, a three-time Best Chef in Boston award recipient, and the winner of the 2013 Taste of the Bluegrass event, emphasizes local, healthy ingredients, including non-GMO range-fed meats, Kentucky Proud products from Marksbury Farms, and produce and other products from local growers and purveyors. She is a frequent shopper at the downtown Farmers Market.