I consider myself a lucky person. For most of my life, I’ve had the benefits of flavor and health from food freshly picked from a garden.
My family always had a big garden, and we had relatives on family farms that provided us with fresh raw milk and naturally raised animal meats. (Of course, this was before industrial farming changed the family farm and the fast-food explosion took over America.)
As kids, we didn’t fully grasp the benefits we were taking for granted. My brother once traded our mother’s homemade bread for a slice of Wonder Bread thinking he got the better deal! As an adult, I finally realized that when I eat fresh food, I feel good.
Recently, I sampled the work of four talented and dedicated local chefs whose key to preparing good food starts with using fresh ingredients and sourcing them locally whenever possible. Here’s what I discovered. Enjoy!
West Point Market
“I first became aware in 1980 that you can’t create a great meal without fresh ingredients,” says West Point Market’s Executive Chef Tom Loraditch. “At Beside the Point, our focus is to provide great customer service and really good food.”
Loraditch says the café gets most of its ingredients through a distributor in Cleveland who pays special attention to the quality, ripeness and freshness of the produce and meats.
The menu offers a wide variety of hot and cold sandwiches, salads and soups, and guests can even create their own salad or sandwich. In addition, there’s a selection of freshly made soups that are simmered from scratch.
Since West Point Market gets the best foods from all over the world, the store’s experts know the latest trends in the food industry. The café’s menu changes with the seasons, and the store’s deli case offers prepared meals ready for carry-out that are made with locally grown ingredients.
One Sunday a month, Loraditch says the café offers a special event. Mrs. Vernon’s Table allows guests to return to a time when families and friends would gather for a Sunday afternoon meal. Abundant platters of food are set on the table and are passed around for all to share.
While at the Pennsylvania School of Culinary Arts in 1993, Edgar’s Executive Chef Glenn Gillespie first learned the importance of using fresh ingredients. “To create a really good meal,” he says, “you need to begin with fresh ingredients, combined with knowledge, skills and desire.”
Gillespie worked at a number of restaurants, but when he took on the responsibility of buying ingredients at Edgar’s in 2011, he was able to make freshness a priority.
This is reflected in Edgar’s seasonal menus. Using foods in season that are locally sourced helps ensure the freshest ingredients. Gillespie gets his meats from local farmers and his seafood from suppliers who use the latest tracking technology, so he knows exactly when his seafood was caught. During the winter, the restaurant menu reflects different cultural comfort food dishes.
“I want my customers to be wowed and to wonder how we make the food taste so good,” he says. “I also want my customers to realize the connection between eating good, fresh food and their health.”
And for interested customers, he’s willing to share the details of the meals he’s created for them.
Ms. Julie’s Kitchen
In January 2000, Julie Costell was 35 years old, weighed more than 300 pounds and had a heart attack. It was a life-changing event that led her to adopt a vegan lifestyle. Since that time, she’s lost around 150 pounds, written three books and opened Ms. Julie’s Kitchen in 2010 and Ms. Julie’s Café in 2012.
Her vegan restaurant and catering company specializes in low-fat, high-nutrition food made without meat, butter or other animal products. She uses fresh ingredients from local farmers, specialty marts and her own gardens.
Costell is passionate about her work. This summer she started an urban farm to grow heirloom tomatoes, lima beans, English shelling peas and kale along with Swiss chard, spinach, lettuces, flax, sunflowers, onions and peppers. Despite drought conditions in June and July, her farm is growing large quantities of fresh ingredients without chemical fertilizers or pesticides.
Her day begins at the farm, and she says she can feel the energy of the plants as she eats her breakfast fresh from the garden while picking ingredients for the day’s menu.
“I want my customers to feel the thought, energy, beauty and love that goes into each dish,” says Costell. “Fresh food makes the best dishes.”
“When I was 17 and a student at the New England Culinary Institute visiting Farmer Joe’s farm, I learned that freshest food is the key to creating top-quality dishes” says Josh Schory, chef and owner of Lucca Downtown.
“It was there I learned the importance of developing relationships with local farmers and using sustainable practices. The vegetable peelings from the restaurants at the Institute were sent to a farmer to feed the pigs, and we would get great pork in return from the farmer. Right now at Lucca, our fresh vegetable peelings are washed and then used to make a rich vegetable stock.”
Schory has developed relationships with multiple farms in Northeast Ohio and is committed to using fresh, locally sourced ingredients. In fact, one farmer has offered to grow plants of Schory’s choosing for the restaurant. He also wants his customers to be aware of the high-quality products that Ohio farmers have to offer. When it comes to the seafood on Lucca’s menu, Schory knows where it came from and that it was caught no more than 36 hours before becoming part of the dish.
Named after Lucca, Italy, Schory’s menu reflects the essence of Tuscan food, using fresh ingredients that are combined simply and expertly.
“I want my customers to experience the flavors, quality and health of fresh food from the farm to the table,” he says.