Celebrate Local Rarities In Your Thanskgiving Feast

Peter Hoffman is the chef owner of New York restaurants Savoy and Back Forty, which "work with a simple premise—to create delicious and memorable meals by sourcing the very best seasonal ingredients from local farmers."  A pioneer of the local food movement, Hoffman regularly bikes to the market in his specially constructed food transport bicycle, which can carry commercial loads of fresh produce, fish and other goods. Peter Hoffman also serves on the board of the Chefs Collaborative, a 1000 member organization of culinary professionals promoting sustainable food choices in the restaurant industry and acted as its national chair from 2000-2006.  We spoke with him about his Thanksgiving plans and thoughts on how to celebrate the season by preparing your own locally sourced meal. Graciously, Peter Hoffman provided us with recipes for a feast.

Q. Where do you start at?

I start at my local farmers’ market. For me, that’s Union Square, but it’s such an important place no matter where it is. You’re talking directly with the farmer and they have to stand behind their quality because they’re talking directly with the cook. This is opposed to the anonymity you get at a larger scale where it doesn’t matter whether the brussel sprouts taste like anything because they’re just moving product.

It gives greater meaning buying food from producers. It connects you more to the fact that food is grown, it’s connected to people and it connects you to our social values and the kind of the world in which you want to live.  You can buy raspberries from South America and vegetables from across the nation and that’s one story we’re telling, but if you buy food grown regionally we’re telling a different story and that’s important if you’re trying to connect to the idea of that holiday.

Over and over again, I notice how good certain foods are that we buy from local farmers. Greens that we buy from local farmer—hardy greens which after the first freeze grow sweeter as the starches turn to sugar—these things kind of jump out at us and scream about what good flavor there is. Real food tastes like something. Industrial foods have gotten wan, they’re more dilute.  Sometimes I think that the problem with obesity is that we crave flavor and nutrition so we have to eat more to get the fix that we desire. Buying food from local farmers, buying food in season so it is at the peak of freshness, is going to be a more satisfying gustatory experience.

Q. So how do you find a good turkey?

For turkeys, there are people who are growing more conventional birds but on a smaller scale so they’re not caged and they’re foraging around the fields, and they may or may not be organic.  If the bird is a compromise and not everything you want it to be, make the choices somewhere else or—heaven forbid—don’t eat turkey. (If you do cook turkey, see Peter Hoffman's recipe for "Heritage Turkey with the Three Sisters")

With cranberries you wonder where we got this tradition. Almost nobody eats them any time the rest of the year and it’s a very localized product that gets spread around of the country and most of it gets turned into cranberry juice. So it’s not the place where I would focus for a menu with a lower carbon impact. It’s an area in which we didn’t even have a good consistent source until about two years ago when an organic cranberry guy started offering them a week or two before thanksgiving. (See recipe for "Beet and Cranberry Relish.")

Q. What’s on the menu and why did you choose it?

In both restaurants, the turkey dish has traditional fixings with it, so we give the people what they are expecting, while at the same time celebrating the great products of the Fall. So here at Savoy, we’re offering Peconic Bay Scallops, and that’s a very local product that suffered a great loss from pollution–nitrogen runoff from lawns, golf courses and so on that produced big brown tides in the Peconic Bay that sucked out all the oxygen and killed off the scallops (see how to reduce toxic runoff here). No one thinks they’re doing anything wrong wanting to have a green lawn but then this happens. And now they’re starting to come back and we buy what we can so we celebrate that food. I grew up eating Peconic Bay scallops and today a lot of people don’t even know what they are. That’s the bay that runs between the north fork and the south fork of Long Island. We want to support the fisherman who are gathering them. (See the recipe for "Risotto with Peconic Bay Scallops and Jerusalem Artichokes.")

Photo credit: Peter Hoffman


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