I walked out of the front door of our home this
morning just after sunrise to retrieve the newspaper.
The green grass beneath my bare feet had scarcely
a trace of cool dew left clinging to it. I gazed
above the leaves of our palm trees that sashayed
against the skyline. They revealed no hint of the
landscape that the states north of our fair Florida
are experiencing at this time of year.
The aural muteness and chiaroscuro tones of flat
Midwestern fields come to me from the memories of
nearly 20 years of living in rural Lake County Illinois.
In deep frigid winter the earth seems as sealed
as a tomb to the eye, but it is, in truth, more
womb than crypt. The farmers know it, are comforted
by and hopeful for it. Like expectant fathers they
pace the fields and cold hallways waiting for the
birth of ebullient, unruly and miraculous spring.
As I join you in greeting our New Year, I am thinking
this year more than ever of "The Farms."
There is a renaissance occurring in America. The
literal meaning of which is "re-birth."
And rightfully, what is being born again is the
love of produce and of artisan-crafted comestibles.
It may seem odd that a French chef has recently
written a book extolling the virtues of the breadth
and diversity of the American food growers, gatherers,
farmers, cheese makers, bread makers, fishermen
and more but such is the case in Harvesting Excellence
by Alain Ducasse. Yet there is a historical precedence
of sorts. In the early 1830s Frenchman Alexis
de Toqueville came to America and became one of
the keenest observers of daily American life. He
traveled from New York to New Orleans and provided
a lengthy sketch for Europeans and Americans alike
an opportunity to learn more about this land.
Yesterday I received a heartwarming phone call from
a gentleman named Lee Jones, who is one of the growers
that Chef Ducasse heralds in that book. We are happy
customers of Mr. Jones and the amazing produce he
raises in Ohio for his business called "Chefs
Garden." He called me to invite me to join
chefs Alain Ducasse, Charlie Trotter, Daniel Boulud
and Thomas Keller to help form a "Board of
Directors" which will help direct a type of
"farm school, a living and growing university"
which we will go to and help foster a greater awareness
of what we as chefs would love to see them grow,
harvest and make available to Americans at large.
They plan to build an inn next to the fields where
guests can stay. There will be cooking suites and
classrooms complete with the ability to film the
chefs and farmers working together to create new
dishes and recreate classics.
I am very happy to be a part of this New Year. Ill
see you at planting time!
Copyright © by Norman Van Aken, 2001
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