FARM TO KITCHEN
A Farm-Restaurant Collaboration in Saratoga
The concept of farm-to-table cuisine has become ubiquitous, yet it’s hard to establish how many chefs are actually cooking up local, farmer-supporting cuisine as opposed to paying lip service to the desire many diners have now for organic, seasonal, local fare that supports their neighborhood farm.
“There’s nothing I’d rather do than source directly from local family farmers,” says Rory Moran, chef and co-owner of Comfort Kitchen in Saratoga. “I’m a small business owner, and my wife co-owns two businesses, Lex & Cleo with her mother, Elizabeth Straus, and Lucia Boutique, so we understand the constraints of shoestring budgets and needing the support of the community to succeed. No one needs that more than farmers.”
At last count, there were 25 major farmers’ markets and 13 CSAs in the area; with a little extra legwork, consumers can get their hands on local farm-fresh produce, fruit, dairy and meat year-round. Because of the bounty that surrounds us, most diners probably assume that the spring feast of asparagus, fava beans, roasted chicken and grilled fiddleheads on their favorite restaurant’s menu were all plucked from farmers in the area.
But as anyone in the restaurant industry would tell you, it’s never that simple. Staffs are small, budgets are punishingly tight, time is of the essence. It’s easier, cheaper, faster and more reliable to order most food—produce included—from a few commercial distributors who may, in turn, be sourcing produce that is available locally from across the country.
In other words, how many restaurant chefs regularly source directly from the farm?
Comfort Kitchen does. Rory wears his affinity for local produce on his sleeve, often literally, as he plunges hands-first into Saratoga’s farmers’ markets twice a week to stock up. The chalkboard outside of the charming takeout counter café features a running list of the farmers and their products in Comfort Kitchen’s fare. One farm that has a permanent place on the board—and in Rory’s heart—is Gomez Veggie Ville.
“Every time I go to the market, I make my first stop at their stand,” Rory says, approaching the smiling mother, father and daughter who greet him warmly, ask how his wife is adjusting to motherhood and weigh him down with just-picked greens. (The couple welcomed their first child in December).
“We went from two and a half acres to 12,” Lizbeth Gomez, the daughter, explains. “We grow everything ecologically, and because we have greenhouses and tunnels now, we can grow a lot more year-round.”
Rory, Lizbeth and her parents exchanged gossip, discussed Saturday’s order and made tentative plans for orders to come in the next month.
“It goes beyond a farmer-restaurant relationship,” Rory says. “They are literally the heart of the market. They haven’t been certified organic because it’s so expensive, but all of their products are grown in the healthiest way possible. Their produce isn’t always pretty, but it’s always the best. I’m actually changing my menu to incorporate more of their products and make vegetables more of the central part of the plate and menu. As an eater and a new father, I want to really focus on comfort food, yes, but also good food choices.”
Don’t worry. Parenthood hasn’t sent Rory off the deep end—he knows that depriving the public of his decadently creamy, perfectly salted, bread-crumb-bedecked mac ’n’ cheese and beef-forward burger with housemade bacon would be a crime so outrageous, no kale and spring pea salad, no matter how luscious, could possibly justify it in the court of public opinion.
He did share a recipe for Comfort Kitchen’s handmade sriracha, plus one enticing new vegetarian recipe he created with the Gomez family in mind, both of which, from the early buzz on the streets, may provide some stiff competition for the burger.
There is comfortable, casual seating inside Comfort Kitchen, but when the weather allows, dine al fresco in the courtyard, just a stone’s throw from the farmers’ market. 454 Broadway in Saratoga Springs. Open Monday–Saturday, 11:30am–7pm.
Housemade Hot sauce (CK Sriracha)
The Comfort Kitchen makes most of its condiments in-house, except for ketchup and mayo. Their in-house pickles are also a treat.
Makes 1–2 cups
1 pound fresh red jalapeños
6 whole garlic cloves
½ cup cider vinegar
¼ cup sugar
3 tablespoons kosher salt
¼ teaspoon xantham gum, optional
Preheat oven to 375°. Roast jalapeños and garlic for 20 minutes until softened and slightly browned. Carefully, with gloves, de-seed jalapeños and remove stems, then mix peppers with garlic, cider vinegar, sugar and salt. Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, blend mixture on high, adding some water to thin and some xantham gum to bind and continue blending longer to create a consistent texture. Store in refrigerator for up to a month.
Gomez Veggieville Veggie Tacos
These veggie tacos, like all of Comfort Kitchen’s vegetarian creations, taste substantive, with layers of complex flavors and textures and a bracing lashing of heat. All of the produce will be sourced from the Gomez family, Rory says.
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
Olive oil, to taste
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons ground cumin, divided
1 teaspoon smoked paprika, divided
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 small head of red cabbage, shredded
1 tablespoon salt
2 limes, zested and juiced
¼ cup chopped cilantro, divided
1 tablespoon local honey
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 medium poblano peppers, thinly sliced
2 cups cooked black beans (either canned or dried, soaked overnight and cooked until tender)
12 corn or flour tortillas
1 bunch of small radishes, thinly sliced, soaked in cold water
Preheat oven to 400°. Toss sweet potatoes with olive oil, 1 tablespoon ground cumin and ½ teaspoon smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Roast for 25–30 minutes until fully cooked and beginning to brown.
Make the slaw: Toss red cabbage with about 1 tablespoon salt and the juice of 2 limes in a large bowl. Mix well with tongs and let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes until cabbage begins to release some liquid. Add half the cilantro and 1 tablespoon of honey. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if necessary.
Meanwhile in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat, cook ½ red onion and poblano peppers in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and cook until beginning to soften. Add the roasted sweet potatoes, black beans, remaining 2 teaspoons of cumin and ½ teaspoon of smoked paprika, lime zest and more olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm while you cook the tortillas.
Corn tortillas should be cooked in a dry cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until beginning to color and puff up. Place cooked tortillas on a small plate and cover with another plate upside down to keep warm. Flour tortillas can be wrapped in foil and warmed in an oven until ready to serve.
To serve, place sweet potato mixture in tortillas, top with slaw, remaining cilantro and sliced radishes. Top with housemade hot sauce.
Seasonal variations: Substitute sweet potatoes with new potatoes and red cabbage with Gomez Veggie Ville’s red spinach. Add sliced avocado. Substitute sweet potatoes and poblano peppers with Gomez Veggie Ville’s sweet corn and heirloom cherry tomatoes.