Chef Lauren Shields is a driving force behind these efforts. The Florida-born chef cooked her way around San Francisco for a while -- a city much more on the farm-to-table ups than South Florida. Now she's using her experience to ensure Market 17 stays as local as possible.
"I think it's really important to support the community and especially to support small farmers and local farms. Why would you buy oranges from Mexico or limes from Mexico when you can get them right here in South Florida?"
Naturally, it's difficult to source 100 percent locally, since certain key products just aren't available in South Florida. But when they can't get what they need from a local purveyor, they order organically from elsewhere.
"Our menu changes daily depending on what farmers have," DeShields says. "We basically, at the end of the night, we sit down and talk about what we have and write the menu accordingly. It might stay the same for a couple of days, or certain items may change a little bit. If something's out of stock, we'll change the dish entirely.
"It keeps it fresh and exciting. It's great to be able to use all different products and not just do the same thing every single day."
Specifically, the team sources from local farms including Marando Farms, Swank Farms, Paradise Farms, Strain Groves, Palmetto Creek, Seely Ark, Broken Arrow Ranch, Winter Park Dairy, Tropical Delights, Erickson Farms, Alderman Farms, and Florida Fresh Meats.
DeShields says getting people to eat locally and incorporate fresh produce into their diet is all about education.
"I think having more farmers' markets, more restaurants like this, CSA boxes -- just educating people I think is the most important thing," she says. "Some people don't know that spinach actually comes out of the ground; they think it just appears in the grocery store, it appears in a can. It's all about education. I think that's the most important thing that we could do."
As far as specific dishes at Market 17 that use local ingredients, a few examples have included:
- Heirloom tomato salad from Strain Groves, arrowhead spinach from Swank Farms, heirloom peppers from Swank Farms, and charred tomato vinaigrette.
- Slow-cooked pork shoulder steak from Palmetto Creek, roasted heirloom carrots from Paradise Farms.
- Key West pink shrimp, tempura oyster mushrooms from Sublicious, Florida ruby grapefruit, pea tendrils from Paradise Farms.
- Sunray Venus clams from Walking Tree Farms, Florida daikon, house-cured bacon from Palmetto Creek, smoked thyme butter.
And although the same dishes might not be available over and over, if a customer asks about a specific menu item, DeShields and team go out of their way to create something that's close.
"Most of the people that come to Market 17, they're part of the more-educated, aware community, and you know sometimes they'll ask about a dish," she says. "They'll say, 'I came in and I had this amazing egg dish,' so we'll try and do something like that if we can. Maybe changing a few ingredients. As long as we can, we will. We have a lot of people who are vegetarians or have dietary restrictions, and they'll come in and we'll create things for them specifically for their diet."
But what about restaurants that claim buying locally is cost-prohibitive or too challenging?
"I think if more restaurants sourced locally, it would be more economically feasible for everyone," DeShields responds. "Chefs have to be flexible with the product that is available and willing to make menu changes when needed."
Flexibility, people. It's a thing. And when restaurants think outside the frozen-vegetable box, the consumer, the farmer, and the community all benefit. Win-win-win situations are always good.
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