Family-to-Farm-to-Tableby Jacqueline Bull June 26, 2018
Jeff Rossman is the Head Chef and CEO of Terra Hospitality Group that includes a gourmet burger restaurant, a bistro and two catering operations, one of them kosher (Shalom Catering). When we spoke over the phone, I mentioned this and said he either really excels at multitasking or gets bored easily. He laughed and said, “You got it right on the head. I’m one of those kinds of guys that likes to create.”
One of his tenets for running his business is the idea of farm-to-table – the idea of eating locally and having an intimate knowledge of your suppliers and the products they are providing.
“We’ve been doing it almost since we opened day one in 1998. We would go to the Hillcrest Farmers Market to get produce, I would drive up to Gino Farms to get produce,” he said.
“The whole idea of farm-to-table is way back. I mean when people were growing their own stuff and using it from their own farm from their own garden … We’ve been doing it the whole time and it is nothing new. It’s kind of in our culture that we’ve established,” he said.
He expresses that customers are starting to become more interested in where the food is coming from and are expecting it when they dine. One of their programs with this in mind is a series of dinners called “Know the Source” where they bring in local farmers, winemakers, fishmongers so the guests can know what is available locally.
And while the idea of farm-to-table isn’t new to Jeff or his family who have been in the restaurant business his whole life, the selling point of it is attracting some frauds.
“The problem is a lot of people are saying they are doing farm-to-table, but they are really not. People are trying to get on the bandwagon. It’s the same thing with fish. They say, ‘Oh yeah, we’re serving you sea bass,’ and it’s tilapia from Vietnam,” he said.
He suggests people should ask about where the fish is coming from, ask about the produce and try to know the source if that is important to you.
“That’s important to me as an operator, so we let people know. On my menus at Terra it says ‘local fish’ and ‘local vegetables’ … Today, for example, I’m going to go down and pick up fish and I don’t know what they are going to have. They might have opa, they might have pink grouper, they might have corvina sea bass. Whatever the fish is, it’s local, it’s fresh,” he said.
And just like asking for the soup special, the servers know what the local fish and local vegetable of the day are. This liminal menu fuels his love of variety and newness as does the nature of catering.
“Catering changes so often and the venues change quite a bit so it feeds that sense of needing to do something new. Every venue is different in some respect or another. For an example, we are doing a private dinner at the top of Mt. Helix on Saturday, which is super cool,” he said.
This loyalty to change is something he mentioned a few times that fits with his macro approach to cooking and also in his philosophy as a chef.
“It is kind of a farm to table philosophy, too … It’s using the best possible ingredients that you can without doing a lot to it. A lot of times there are chefs or cooks that start adding and adding and adding … So for me it is all just enhancements. I want people to be able to try the food and have a great experience, but also not lose sight of the quality of the ingredients – if that makes sense.”
Makes sense to me.