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Leather Storrs: Seasonal, Local Food Just Tastes Better

Thursday, August 06, 2015


When you live in a food obsessed region supported by a dizzying array of local offerings it’s easy to be jaded: “Sure it’s an heirloom cucumber deconstruction but is it the superior ‘Diva’ variety or 2010’s darling, the ridged Armenian?” Even in a seasonal, supply-side Chef like me, this hyper classification causes bile. Seriously? You haven’t intimidated your guest enough with the free range cock’s comb and hand foraged/fermented plantain? We’re just gonna call it a cucumber, thanks. Still, the jewelefication of strains and hybrids is an annoying and fuzzy one-off from the more exciting and concrete development: All of America, in varying degrees, truly believes that seasonal, local food just tastes better. We seek it out. We defend it. We crave it. I know this indisputably because of Frankfort, Michigan.

I am on vacation in the land of Bratwurst. I come every year and look forward to it between visits, though not historically for the food. The offerings at the grocery store are so Spartan that “Spartan” is the name of the in-house brand. Nevertheless, this year a sign at the front with a jolly, ruddy faced farmer flashing the “OK” sign proclaimed “We love local”. Blueberries, cherries, corn, lettuce and Honey Rock melons proved it.

A few years ago, a Farmer’s market sprouted up across the bay in Elberta, Michigan and both locals and summer folk showered it with attention and cash. The prices were ridiculous, the produce tired and inconsistent. Luckily, hitting the farmer’s market carried a certain cache with the summering moms. Whether or not most of those shabby veggies wilted in the back of a Beemer, this kept the farmers growing and they got better.

Supply increased, prices went down, quality and diversity improved and, most importantly, folks were able to hold a tangible link to a place they loved. Soon, the produce made it out of the car and into hungry kids who managed to pause just long enough to ask why their corn is unbelievably good. A taste memory is made. Michigan is cousins, swimming and the BEST fresh corn she’s ever had.

I doubt that these sensible Michiganders will start debating the merits of patty-pan vs. the exotic tromboncino squash like we might here in Portlandia. Every movement has its kooky, shouting evangelists and for better or worse that’s us. But regardless of your fervor, you must agree that eating locally grown produce enriches your connection to that land. It increases appreciation and understanding and provides literal examples of the flavor of a place.

Over the years I have watched a region learn to express itself through its farmers and their unique offerings. I feel a part of Northern Michigan just for having combed the hills for u-pick currants or lucked into a patch of chanterelles in a quiet forest. Now there is an open market almost every day of the week where I look for the long skinny carrots that dive effortlessly into the loose, sandy soil and the sweet, thin walled pale green peppers that are virtually seedless. My kids? They like the cherry pie, but they demand the corn.

Leather Storrs is an Oregon native who has served 20 years in professional kitchens. He owns a piece of area restaurant Noble Rot, where he yells and waves arms. He quietly admits to having been a newspaper critic in Austin, Texas and Portland.


Related Slideshow: The 10 Hottest Up-And-Coming Food Cities in the U.S.

Portland is among the 10 hottest up-and-coming food cities, according to lifestyle and travel website Zagat.com. The lifestyle website named Southeast Division St. Portland's best food neighborhood. See what other cities and neighborhoods made the list. 

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Portland, OR

Best neighborhood? Southeat Division St. 

Photo: pok pok ike's vietnamese fish sauce wings via Flickr

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New York, NY

Best neighborhood? SoHo 


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