When we first discussed this video show collaboration between Edible Magazine and The Liquid Muse, we knew our focus would address how locally produced goods can be the cornerstone of New Mexico’s dazzling culinary culture. What better way to open this conversation than by bringing a chef to a farm, and exploring how these relationships work, in a very practical way. What does sustainable farming entail? Is it financially possible for restaurants to execute seasonal menus using produce from within our state borders? Does this matter to diners?
So, for the first episode of Digging In: A Recipe For Sustainability, we invited Chef David Gaspar De Alba (who was Executive Chef of Radish & Rye, in Santa Fe, at the time) to visit Silver Leaf Farms, in Corrales. What a great pairing! The farmers, Elan and Aaron Silverbaltt-Buser could not have been more passionate and enthusiastic about what they grow and – more importantly – how they grow it. The Albuquerque natives have worked in various aspects of farming and food science throughout their lives, and eventually ventured into business together. Only a year old, Silver Leaf Farms boasts a greenhouse, built by the brothers themselves, which produces food year round. It features eco-friendly watering systems including drip irrigation and ponds upon which floating lettuce beds thrive, needing only a gallon of water per head to mature, versus six times as much in a field. The encased ecosystem also houses beehives and specific insects that prey on pests, eliminating the need for chemical pesticides. Fans and electrically controlled vents allow for full control over temperature for optimal conditions. They’ve created the perfect environment of nature-meets-organic science, in a colorful, flavorful, breathing wonderland of deliciousness.
We toured the grounds, tasting multiple types of kale, salad greens, cabbage and tomatoes, which practically winked at us while ripening before our eyes. Our shared passion for clean, vibrant food developed into a conversation about how small farms can sustain themselves as viable businesses, and how seasonality affects a chef’s offerings. This exploration eventually brought us back to Chef Gaspar De Alba’s kitchen.
Chef David moved to Santa Fe from Portland, Oregon to open Izanami at Ten Thousand Waves Spa. He was later approached to open Radish & Rye, where his seasonal menu gained national attention. He points out that collaborating with local farmers in his previous city isn’t a new movement but rather simply how chefs cook. Now settled in New Mexico, he explores local farms, getting to know the people and their offerings. As with hospitality, in general, the succession of people who touch each part of a diner’s experience is what makes a restaurant great, and this personal connection between farmer and chef is the first step in that process.
I met up again with Chef Gaspar de Alba at the restaurant and Silver Leaf’s Aaron and Elan brought several kinds of lettuce, freshly plucked that morning, and the kind of fragrant tomatoes that only come straight off the vine. Pungent herbs, such as tarragon, punctuated the (literally) farm fresh salad we enjoyed as we continued our exchange, now in a restaurant setting.
One of the most interesting points from that talk had to do with the practicality of using only locally grown food from “little guys” versus large food distributors. Is the cost of organic, seasonal food higher than what arrives off a truck from another part of the country? How important is the carbon footprint of water use and transportation to a restaurant claiming to be “farm to plate?” How do guests react to a menu that shifts with what the bounty of each season? Dig into the meat of these questions, and more, by watching our inaugural episode. I’d love your feedback!