Thursday, 24 October 2013
Slow Money Saturday: Brunch and Community-Building Continues at The Crest
As I was preparing to set my fingers to the keyboard to write this post, something caught my ear as I once again randomly caught a cooking-themed episode of "Charlie Rose." Executive Chef of The French Laundry Thomas Keller said something to the effect of a goal of today's restaurants is to give customers an experience. Restaurants are a place of community and it's there where many memories are made. Somewhere between what stuck out and my own transformation of an already loose interpretation and tired memory (an ethnographic feature when you don't have a recorder, I suppose), I found the James Beard Award-winning chef's comments to aptly capture everything I am about to write. If you choose to stop reading at the end of this sentence, the summary is thus: The Crest Gastropub, alongside every restaurant and foodie event about which I have ever blogged, and will one day blog, strives to give customers an experience.
Having written that, this past Saturday was yet another wonderful experience at The Crest. I had been invited to join community leaders and other members of the local food system (highlighted by Slow Money Ohio) at a brunch prepared by the hands of Executive Chef Dustin Brafford and his crew. And no matter what else was on the plate for that weekend (thank goodness midterms had finished), I wasn't about to miss it. All of the food was still being set up by the time Maureen and I made it over to Clintonville, with a good majority of the seats already filled along the back wall. We installed ourselves at one of the indoor high tops, in sight of both the food and the harvest-themed bar, and chatted as dish after dish was placed on the buffet line. Eventually, the cues were understood and we walked the few meters over to the patient line of brunchers.
At one end was a build-your-own parfait, featuring none other than Snowville Creamery yogurt and an assortment of what looked to be perfectly, beautifully diced fruit.
Moving down the line, we were presented with Luna Burger's Kick Start Breakfast Patties and a coconut quinoa cold soup, followed by Yoder Farm sausage patties and Berkshire bacon.
Next up was one of the best egg dishes I've ever had (featured more prominently on my second plate), a quiche featuring Yoder Farm eggs, wild nettles, Swainway Urban Farm mushrooms, and Lucky Penny feta cheese; light and airy, yet with a satisfying density, the quiche had a peppery bite which complemented the salt from the feta. A feature of the tablescape were crisp apples sitting atop chopping boards and dressed with creamy Lucky Penny goat cheese and sweet honey from Conrad Hives and Honey.
Finally, a variety of toasted breads and a selection of subtly pronounced jams from Black Radish Creamery completed the buffet. Ohio was certainly represented not only throughout the dining room floor of The Crest, but on each our plates, as well.
After the first round of food, the table of plenty continued to provide, as manager and in-house horticulturist Trisha Clark started off the series of short presentations. As Trisha began her own comments on the fact that The Crest and everyone who's a part of it are still growing and learning together, I couldn't help but be taken aback by the fact that the reincarnated Crest is just shy of six months old. I'll admit my own bias toward The Crest when I say the following, but knowing where The Crest is now and from where it came, and understanding the directions it seeks to go, The Crest has come so far in the last six months and has been well-positioned for an even brighter future. (Actually, that's a literal statement, too, as it was rather dreary and lightly raining all morning.) From my vantage point, and taking in everything Trisha said, it seems to me that the folks at The Crest are not only cognisant of the feedback (positive and negative), but they are seeking to improve from it all. As Trisha simply put it, the goal at The Crest is "to keep getting better." Before wrapping up, Trisha made sure to thank not only everyone who was present, but those who the diner doesn't typically see: those in the kitchen, those who clean the bathrooms and work on maintenance, and so forth (a limitation to my notetaking in this case). And as a whole, The Crest's community of supporters.
Becoming better is certainly a large task for any organisation at the macro level. And sometimes, you've got to start micro. Next up on the speakers list were Ken and Eleanor who talked about their experiences at The Crest, including their day-to-day duties, and the sense of community and family they feel as employees, all wrapped up in an evident blanket of pride. The staff, it should be noted, meets on a regular basis for professional development and training.
The CIW then took the floor. Formally known as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the CIW is a community-based worker organisation leading the charge of the Fair Food movement. As it was so passionately shared, and quickly translated, the CIW takes up as its mission the rights of workers and motivating others to join the cause of food justice. 20 years ago, the CIW was in its infancy, with members gathering together seeking dialogue to end early forms of modern-day slavery. Last week, the CIW was in Columbus as part of a Midwest tour rallying against Wendy's; the call is for Wendy's to join their contemporaries in support of fair food. Among the demands is a pay increase of one penny per pound of tomatoes paid by the participating buyers. Between January 2011 and March 2013, the "penny per pound" premium was redistributed to workers in the amount of over $10M. If you haven't already clicked the aformentioned link, click here to read up on everything else the CIW is seeking. Concluding this portion of the presentation, Columbus resident Reuben, a migrant and farm worker as a child, reminded us that we need each other in order to move forward. Especially in this way, we are all connected to and dependent upon one another.
Following a brief break, Lisa Daris, facilitator of Columbus's chapter of Slow Money, presented the history and vision of this organisation which was founded in 2009 by Woody Tasch. I'll note here that Lisa also managed to get nearly everyone to sing the first verse of "Old MacDonald had a farm." While the tune in itself is rather lighthearted, Lisa pointed out the rather melancholy nature of its history via a brief lyrical analysis. Certainly one could suggest we're singing along to the tale of someone's history (in which case we're right to go past tense, i.e., he had a farm), or more simply we're focusing instead on learning animal names and sounds and nothing more. But if we take a look at an eerily similar version of the song dating back to 1917, we find that not only did he have (i.e., a different emphasis placed on had in the original lyric, as in he lost the farm) but Old Macdougal had a farm in, of all places, Ohio. Slow Money, set in this context, is part of the food justice system aimed at returning the focus and more attention back to small farms. Further, Slow Money support adds to the dialogue around the implications of farming on school systems, the place of family and community in connection to the land, and the existence (or non-existence) of bio diversity in the wake of monoculture crops.
My Saturday brunch experience at The Crest was more than just "an experience." As Abed brought to our attention, it was a brunch centered around a focused effort to bring various members of the community and local (and by extension regional/national/global) food system together, unified by our love and passion for food and supporting those who grow, harvest, prepare, purchase, and consume it.
Adding to Lisa and Abed's comments, and urging us to help nurture capital and promote the principles of Slow Money, Local Matters executive director Michael Jones shared that the state of Ohio has about 76,000 farms. According to 2009-2010 county estimates, that number is closer to 75K. In either case, the numbers are actually declining (hopefully Michael's numbers represent a boost in small farm support since the aformentioned estimates). According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, the number of farms totalled 75,861; five years earlier, it was 77,797 over a span of 14,583,435 acres. On a macro scale, the numbers may nevertheless seem to be healthy in a land of agricultural production. With the largest anthropologist hat I could possibly wear, all I can really say is that each number represents the livelihood of individiuals, families, and communities.
In retrospect, this learning that went beyond the plate was just the kind of thing to which I'm drawn. Food not only drew us into The Crest. It served as the context upon which our gathering was based and from which we could only continue to learn more.
To get in contact with Lisa and learn how you can help support Slow Money Ohio, click here. For the entire album of photos, click here.