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 1830’s 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 "Chef’s 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. I’ll see you at planting time!

Copyright © by Norman Van Aken, 2001

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