Butcher Block Grill's Josh Hedquist, "Our Food System Represents What's Wrong With America"
In the past half century, the US has moved away from small scale family farms, where much of the population produced at least some of their own food, to massive agricultural corporations aimed at making as much money possible with the least amount of time and effort -- regardless, of the effects on the environment, economy, nutritional content, and even quality of the product.
Like many chefs these days the Butcher Block Grill's Josh Hedquist is over the modern food system.
The Italian-loving Minnesota-native is doing what he can to educate customers and spread his slow foods ethos to the South Florida food scene.
"We've gotten so far away from our food," said Hedquist. "In Asia, Europe, India, and most of the world, people grow their own food without pesticides and much of the chemicals we use here. In hindsight, our food system represents much of what's wrong with America -- it's the cheapest crap to make as much money as possible."
Coming from Minneapolis, Hedquist has firsthand experience with the alternative option. In his home state it's not uncommon to have foragers show up at the kitchen door with freshly picked ramps or wild mushroom. Small farms produce and rear everything from chicken and beef to venison and wild boar.
In fact, this year Bon Appetit placed two Minneapolis eateries on its list of the "50 Best New Restaurant Nominees for 2013" -- the entire state of Florida only had one on the list.
As executive chef at Boca's new Butcher Block Grill, Hedquist has the freedom to use sustainably sourced products to in an attempt to bring the slow food philosophy that is found all over the place in his home state. He hopes "Be a small part of the change that needs to take place."
The steakhouse uses humane farms like Creekstone Beef and FreeBird out of Pennsylvania, as well as local farms -- when possible -- such as Farmer Jay's Organics, Swank Specialty Produce, Heritage Hen Farms, Green Cay, Farmhouse Tomatoes, Piero Farms, and Palmetto Creek.
While the owners wanted to go for a bit of a farm-to-table steakhouse concept from the beginning, Hedquist took the idea and rolled with it.
"I always wanted to use these sorts of products in other restaurants, but haven't really had the opportunity in the past," he said. "I try to educate our customers as much as possible. I like to let them know it's not just that I bring in Creekstone beef, because the product is delicious, but that we need to support those sorts of people."
Aside from all of his research into food production, Hedquist credits his love of Italian cuisine for his fascination on sustainable, quality products. Aside from working for Dennis Max and Big Time Restaurant Group, he spent time working for Todd English at da Campo Osteria in Fort Lauderdale.
"Italians and Italian cuisine is all about making things the best way you possibly can," said Hedquist. "Here, in many cases, it seems like it's about squeezing more out of less to make as much money as possible. In Italy, it's a philosophy of caring about the product not commercialism; I really appreciate that."
Aside from sourcing as locally and sustainably as he can, Hedquist emphasizes making everything from scratch, including the mozzarella and cured pork products, such as the guanciale (basically, an unsmoked bacon made from pig cheeks) and pancetta.
For now, Hedquist is doing what he can to educate and show off his slow food ethos in Boca Raton.
Butcher Block Grill is located at 7000 W. Camino Real in Boca Raton. Call 561-409-3035, or visit butcherblockgrill.com.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.
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