For locally minded chefs, shopping at farmer's markets - and even growing produce on rooftop gardens - are just the first steps along a path that connects the food they serve with the area’s agricultural economy. Canning thousands of pounds of tomatoes; shucking, dehydrating and grinding corn for polenta; preserving, pickling and making charcuterie - these are some of the things restaurant kitchens are doing now, so that diners can have a taste of summer and fall bounty next February. What’s more, the chefs are discovering that traditional preserving methods, like marinating fruits, herbs and vegetables in grain alcohol, produce exciting new ingredients to flavor the cocktails and sauces they are serving this season. Read on to see how five top restaurants preserve fresh flavors.
There’s not much room in chef Kyle Bailey’s Logan Circle kitchen, but that doesn’t stop him from buying 100-200 pounds of tomatoes at the market each week, and recycling his massive dishwasher to sterilize jars for after-hours canning sessions. His crew also turns bushels of corn into polenta, cures meats, makes sauerkraut and is experimenting with fermented pickles - a technique he says is “super-hot” with chefs. He's serving these very sour versions on some of his sandwiches. He’s also preserving fruit, like blueberries with ginger and lime, for cheese plates (202-567-2576).
This Palisades seafood mecca cures fresh Mediterranean anchovies every week. The three-step process includes packing in salt, a vinegar marinade and preserving with herbs and olive oil. The anchovies would keep for months, but since they’re used in everything from Caesar salads to crudo, they never last that long. Pickling is a hot trend here, too, with the chefs experimenting with sweet, spicy and garlicky versions (202-342-9101).
Chef Aaron McCloud built roof gardens atop his Penn Quarter New American, and doesn’t let the herbs, chiles and tomatoes he grows go to waste. He smokes, pickles or preserves them with vinegar or vodka. Smoking tomatoes, he says, completely changes everything about their taste. What’s more, canning them would take up too much space. As for the chile- and herb-infused spirits, he uses those in drinks. He also conserves his favorite Michigan cherries in brandy with spices for winter dishes like roasted squab. The photo shows Spanish olives with preserved Meyer lemons and heirloom tomatoes, as well as pickled fennel fronds and basil (202- 637-0012).
The flip-side of chef-owner Cathal Armstrong's long-standing commitment to local sourcing for his flagship New American in Old Town is an interest in preserving and pickling. The result is a colorful array of raspberries bottled in brandy and chambord, pickled peaches, pears and damson plums, fig jam, plum preserves, peach jelly and spiced pears in honey. Look for these products on the cheese service and in desserts, and hope that the kitchen will make enough in the future for sale (703-706-0450).
Chef-owner Spike Gjerde’s just-opened Baltimore diner also houses the extensive preservation and canning operations he began at his acclaimed Woodberry Kitchen. His preservation team cans, pickles and preserves some 50-70 different varieties of fruits and vegetables annually. His goal is to use locally sourced ingredients in his restaurants year-round. One by-product is a hot sauce made from locally grown fish peppers called "Snake Oil" that’s available for $12 a bottle. The photo show garlic scapes being preserved (410-464-9222).