Today’s post is by Chef Tom Griffin from Isle Casino Hotel in Waterloo, Iowa. Chef Tom has been working hard to ensure that the best and freshest Iowa produce is selected for the Isle’s buffet.
The search has begun for the growers who will be producing the farm fresh produce for The Buffet. Luckily, I am not new to this process and I have established some great contacts. However, several years ago, when I first started down this path it was a bit more of an adventure.
I began this process nearly 10 years ago while I was the chef at a small restaurant in McGregor, Iowa. At that time, locally produced, farm fresh items were basically what one found at local Farmer’s Markets or grew yourself – we did both at the McGregor restaurant. Until, by chance, I hired a young woman who along with her husband was trying to put together a growers’ co-op. The idea for the co-op was to have area farmers that practiced sustainable and organic farming methods get together each year and decide who would grow what, when they would grow it, combine their resources, market their goods, and sell them. The group called itself GrownLocally. At its inception, deliveries were made right to the client’s doorstep at least once per week and during peak times. GrownLocally grew from processing vegetables to processing vegetables, protein production of beef, pork, and chicken, eggs, cheeses, herbs, fruits, and flowers. The group has grown substantially in these 10 years to provide farm fresh produce to large institutions like Luther College in Decorah.
When I became executive chef at Lady Luck Casino in Marquette in 2005, I brought my relationship with GrownLocally with me and used them as much as I could. When I came to the Isle Casino Hotel Waterloo as executive chef, once again I brought my relationship with GrownLocally to Waterloo. The move turned out to be easy, because they were already making deliveries to organization in the Waterloo area.
In order to supplement the produce that we receive from GrownLocally, the Waterloo culinary team has been visiting farmer’s markets and establishing relationships with growers in the Cedar Valley. It is early in Iowa’s growing season, but our intention is to make that initial contact and let the area’s growers know we are looking for fresh products on a rather large scale. We hope to have multiple growers to choose from to insure product availability and a steady stream of fresh items to choose.
We have also set aside a small area of ground for an herb garden on property. We are planting rosemary, basil, French tarragon, parsley, thyme, cilantro, and oregano. Not only will it add beauty to the employee entrance, but it will be a rich source of fresh herbs to enhance our dishes. It will also give our staff the chance to learn to cultivate some of their own products. We will be looking to expand this in the future to some vegetables for our use as well.
We have laid the groundwork for obtaining the locally raised products for our culinary offerings. We hope for a great growing season and look forward to providing our guests with the freshest and tastiest items we can find. Partnering with local producers will only grow our commitment to the community and its well-being.