Great Sage's executive chef Adam Pierce is passionate about using local, organic, in-season ingredients whenever possible to create his spectacular plant-based dishes. Anyone who has eaten at this Clarksville, Maryland vegan hot spot can attest to the delicious results of his philosophy. That’s all well and good for a chef, but what about the average home cook who is a little less comfortable in the kitchen? Read on to get Pierce's advice for how to make the most of local, in-season ingredients even if you’re not a culinary genius.
Q What steps do you take to make sure your menu has a low impact on the environment, and how can home cooks do the same?
A First, almost everything in our kitchen can be recycled, from the food scraps to the cardboard. For example, there are really creative ways to use leftover scraps, like making vegetable stock. Using homemade vegetable stock (instead of water) for rice and other grains makes them a lot tastier. Great Sage is also partially powered with wind power. And of course we use produce from local farms as much as possible. Buying our food nearby has less of an impact on the environment because it doesn’t have to be transported long distances or handled and stored for long periods of time. All of these things lead to delicious food, so it’s a win-win. These are practices that could easily be adapted to your kitchen at home.
Q What are the benefits of "farm-to-table" restaurants? How do you continue this practice during the winter months?
A We work primarily with local, organic farms. Great Sage is the first place I’ve worked that has been really strict with this policy and it translates to making fantastic food in the kitchen. The less your food is handled before making it to your kitchen, the less preparation it will need before making it to the plate. It already tastes fantastic. After you’ve worked with local, organic fruits and vegetables, conventional and highly processed foods just don’t cut it. They can’t compare.
Great Sage follows the seasons. Every quarter I create a new menu based on the freshest produce available, and I’m constantly creating new dishes for our weekly specials. Of course, we have less to choose from in the winter, but we still stay away from using anything frozen or highly processed. Even in the colder months we aim to prepare food from farm to table because we know that our guests taste the difference.
Q What is your advice for people who want to eat local, but are intimidated by cooking with available ingredients?
A Go to your local farmers' markets and forget about recipes. Search online for local food charts that list the freshest seasonal produce for your area. If you’re at the farmers' market and want to play around with some local vegetables, I recommend starting with green vegetables. Good food starts with good technique, and if you want really tasty vegetables you need to understand how to cook them properly.
For instance, if you’ve got string beans or a hearty green vegetable, blanch them by briefly cooking them in highly salted boiling water and then shocking them by dunking them in ice water. Then you can sauté them with some vegetable stock and some garlic or your favorite spices and herbs.
Cooking techniques like roasting or blanching are easy to master and will make your food taste great. You’ll find yourself not needing recipes any more. You’ll start creating in your kitchen and you’ll be able to adapt to the food that’s in-season and tastes best.
Corinne Bowen is a freelance journalist and copywriter living in Baltimore with her husband and daughter. She blogs about her adventures in writing, veggies, marriage, and motherhood at CorinneBowen.com.