The farm-to-table (or farm-to-fork) movement has been reconnecting people to fresh, sustainable ingredients produced in their own regions. It’s a chance for guests to, quite literally, get a taste of the local flavor. If you’re a newbie to the movement, here are a few restaurants with private dining that can introduce the trend to your group.
THE HERB FARM
The Herbfarm is one of the oldest and most venerated farm-to-table restaurants not just in the Northwest but in the nation. Its roots go back to 1974. “My mother-in-law set a wheelbarrow out with some plants for sale,” says co-owner Carrie Van Dyck. From selling herb plants for $.50 at the side of the road, The Herbfarm grew into a full-grown herb nursery. In 1986, Van Dyck and her husband, Ron Zimmerman, opened the restaurant in Fall City, relocating to Woodinville in 2001.
Today, The Herbfarm is renowned for its ever-changing, nine-course meal with local wine, beer or nonalcoholic beverage pairings. A private dining room seats 14, and another semiprivate room seats eight. Larger parties of 20–70 guests can book the entire restaurant, complete with a guitarist for entertainment
“We believe that food from where you live and where you grow is inherently better than something you fly in from around the world,” Van Dyck says of their commitment to local producers. “If everything comes from the same place, the ingredients meld.”
SOUTH RESTAURANT + COFFEEHOUSE
You might think operating a restaurant focusing on fresh, locally produced ingredients in Alaska would be especially challenging. And depending on the time of year, Laile Fairbairn, general manager of Anchorage’s South Restaurant + Coffeehouse, would agree. Sometimes, Fairbairn acknowledges, they do have to bring in some ingredients. But you’d be surprised by how much South can source locally. “Because of the intense growing season, the produce can be amazing,” Fairbairn says. “We get ramps and morels and really interesting stuff, like purple sweet potatoes.” And of course, “Alaska has amazing seafood,” Fairbairn says.
Local sourcing is worthwhile despite the challenges, Fairbairn says. “Just having that connection to the community, visiting the farms and working with them to see what they’re producing, and trying to create menu items off of that is exciting,” she says.
South features a private dining room that seats as many as 30. The entire restaurant seats 150 but can only be rented for early morning breakfast service before opening to the public at 9 a.m. South also has a separate coffeehouse that can seat as many as 36.
ART OF THE TABLE
Art of the Table recently moved to a new, much larger location that can accommodate as many as 80 diners. Though it’s tripled in size, it hasn’t altered its commitment to hyperlocal ingredients.
“Art of the Table really celebrates food and the people who dedicate their lives to growing, raising, catching and foraging it,” says co-owner Shannon Van Horn. “Whether you call Seattle home or are experiencing the region for the first time, eating locally offers an in-depth sensory experience of both Seattle and the region.”
Van Horn, who owns the restaurant with her husband and head chef, Dustin Ronspies, says the menu changes every two to three weeks, depending upon what is available from their farmers. “Often when guests finish a meal here they describe it as if they’ve been through a journey,” she says.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Botanist, in Vancouver’s Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel, is one of the newest farm-to-table restaurants in the Pacific Northwest, having opened its doors in April of this year. With a private dining room seating 18, Botanist also offers a Garden Room (capacity 20) and Terrace (capacity 16), and the VIP Champagne Lounge, which can serve as many as 30.
“We want to look after our guests, after our farmers and suppliers and the people in our community,” General Manager Shon JonesParry says of Botanist’s philosophy. But it’s not just about doing the right thing. It’s about doing the tasty thing, he says. Ingredients from small, local producers help make everything from an entrée to a cocktail better. “People can taste the difference,” Jones-Parry says. “It’s undeniable.” Head chef Hector Laguna says the nature of farm-to-table cooking promotes creativity and helps keep chefs from becoming complacent. “Sometimes a farmer can only deliver chanterelle, so I have to be able to make that change. It allows us to be more creative,” says Laguna.
The biggest thing diners will notice at a farm-to-table restaurant, Laguna says, is the freshness. “They harvest it today, and we have it on the plate tomorrow,” he says. “The difference is huge.” Another tenet of most farm-totable chefs is to get out of the way of the ingredients. You won’t find overly fussy entrées or proteins rendered indistinguishable by heavy sauces. “It’s very fresh, very honest,” Laguna says. “We let Mother Nature do the biggest part and then just put it together.”
For Colter’s Creek, in the tiny north Idaho town of Juliaetta, the farm-to-table philosophy is also about convenience. “We’re kind of out in the middle of nowhere,” says Melissa Sanborn, coowner along with her husband, Mike Pearson. “It takes 30 minutes to get to the nearest store and five minutes to get to the garden.”
Primarily a winery, Colter’s Creek’s restaurant opened in 2008, and features its wines as well as local ingredients. It brings the same locavore sensibility to catering and can serve 100– 200 guests. The restaurant seats about 70, but is only available for private functions Monday through Wednesday. To help accommodate demand for private events, Colter’s Creek will open a new tasting room in Moscow, Idaho, this fall. “We built in an area for space rental, and we’ve put a kitchen up there,” Sanborn says.
THE PAINTED LADY RESTAURANT
“A lot of what makes [our cuisine] special, what makes it magical, is that people get to interact with the chef,” says Allen Storrs Routt, coowner of The Painted Lady Restaurant with his wife, Jessica Bagley-Routt. “We really like to make it personal.” The restaurant features an 18-seat private dining room upstairs from the 33-seat main restaurant. The main restaurant is available for rental during the shoulder seasons. The Painted Lady uses ingredients from both its own culinary garden as well as small, local farms that grow some very specialized and, in North America, unusual produce.
Routte acknowledges that the catering costs for a farm-to-table plated meal can be shocking to some. “It’s different from what you get from a traditional caterer,” he says. “But when you’re talking about service for 400 people, that’s a big check to write.”
Routte offers a less expensive, casual buffetstyle experience with locally sourced ingredients. He and his wife also operate Storrs Smokehouse, featuring the same locally sourced ingredients, but in a simple barbecue format.
If you’ve never experienced a true farm-totable restaurant, Routte says you won’t understand what a totally different sensory experience it can be. “For me, I think one of the biggest things is just the fresh herbs or greens—when you cut something from the property and the entire restaurant fills with that aroma.”