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The Elysian: On Foie Gras and Local Farmers

December 7, 2009

So there’s a new, spiffy hotel opening in Chicago this week and I had the pleasure of shooting there last week for the two restaurants.  Chef Jason McLeod and his team at the Elysian are doing beautiful, impressive dishes, but most exciting to me is their commitment to sourcing locally.  As Jason put it, winning over diners in the restaurants is the easy part; the tricky bit will be convincing banquets and weddings that they can’t have fresh strawberries in October!  They hope to toe the line and gently suggest fresh, local apples and pears instead.  Here’s hoping he can keep it up.  They have already developed strong working relationships with local growers and producers, thanks in part to Balsan’s chef de cuisine Daniel Grant.  Coming from North Pond, Daniel has the interest and commitment to sourcing locally and the connections to make it happen.

shaved foie gras

So as I upload these I can hear you ask, “Hey Grant, what’s so local about foie gras?!”  Fair question.  I don’t know where they source their foie gras so it probably isn’t all that local.  I think what I was trying to say above is that the Elysian is going to source locally as much as possible, but they are not vowing 100%.  I struggle with that too.  I eat locally, but hey, I still drink coffee, use salt and pepper and I am also not about to give up lemons and limes and olive oil in my kitchen.  I think you have to settle on a “mostly local” approach.  If a large hotel like the Elysian can pull off, say, 75% local (and 95-100% humane/organic/chemical-free) and provide support to the local farming community, then I’m impressed!

Here you go.  Jason told me this story.  They have a relationship with an orchard (in Iowa, I think) that grows honeycrisp apples.  At some point this fall the orchard told Jason that the trees had been hit by a bad hailstorm and many of their apples were bruised.  They could not be sold because your average consumer won’t buy an apple with a big dent in it.  Imagine how devastating that could be to an orchard to lose so much product and income that way.  The pastry chef at the Elysian invented the ash baked apple.  He roasts whole apples in the ashes of the wood-burning oven, carefully peels them and they’re delicious!  This dish will allow the Elysian to buy up a huge quantity of those bruised apples, helping the Elysian and helping the grower.  This is a huge success story in my book!

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