Local Eats: Closing the Farm-to-Table Loop

A recent story in New York Times Magazine told the story of Eno, an upcoming restaurant in Durham, N.C. that is taking "farm-to-table" to a new level. (For more on Durham's growing locavore scene, check out this recent feature, also from the Times.) 

Eno will be owned and operated by Jamie DeMent and Richard Holcomb, proprieters of Coon Rock Farm, a 55-acre property outside of town. Eventually, the farm will supply 100 percent of Eno's food.

Eno, which is scheduled to open early this summer in downtown Durham, will serve dishes made from Coon Rock’s meat, vegetables, eggs and milk (including from a cow named Eudora — as in Welty). Toward the end of the meal, diners will be handed a dessert menu and a market menu. Liked the pork chop and Russian kale? Take some home and cook them your way. As DeMent envisions it, “You’ll be able to get a little brown bag if you thought that was the greatest pork chop you’ve ever had in your life, which it will be.”

This made me think of a recent discussion I had with Mitch Prensky at Supper, the beautiful South Street restaurant. I was there to talk to him about his creative pickles (read all about it in June's Grid!), but we spent a fair about of time chatting about his innovative new approach to sourcing. Prensky has partnered with a local farm, putting them on retainer. They will supply him, and him alone. This will give him tremendous control over the food they grow, and the quality of the produce he serves. The farm is also also doing eggs—many of which might end up in Supper's legendary deviled eggs—and have plans to raise a few head of grass-fed cattle.

Both of these instances involve closing the loop somewhat; bringing farm even closer to table. But there are challenges—especially with the more restrictive Eno model:

“It’s a whole different mind-set to realize that there will be some days when you don’t have salad greens,” says the dreadlocked chef [Marco Shaw] over a lunch of country-ham sandwiches with mustard-green slaw, sitting on the couch at Coon Rock. “You have to figure out how to make salad from turnip greens — and then sell it. When there’s no celery, how are you going to make stock? How are you going to make sauce when you don’t have onions?” There’s also the question of scaling up production on the farm: “With a 75-seat restaurant open six nights a week, just on dinner, I’ll go through 35 chickens,” he says. “Lunch? That’s potentially 80 chickens a week.”

“I need to order chicks!” Holcomb says.