A few weeks ago, Ivor Chodkowski walked into New York City’s International Culinary Center (ICC) to lecture their chefs-to-be about Kentucky farming.
Chodkowski owns Field Day Family Farm, and Harvest Restaurant, both in Louisville. He says in Louisville, the lines between urban chefs and rural producers are easier to draw. If you want to, you can hop in your car and reach farmland in about 20 minutes.
“Whereas in Manhattan, it’s a train ride and a two-hour ride before anyone sees anything that’s like Ag production that would end up in farmer’s markets or stores or restaurants,” he says.
This separation is one of the reasons the ICC started a program for students called “Classic Culinary Arts with a Farm-to-Table Concentration.”
It’s the first official program of its kind, which focuses on, per the video course description, how “chefs of the 21st century need to know a lot more than culinary techniques and kitchen management, they need to know where their raw products come from and how they’re produced.”
In the age of locally-focused restaurants, this might seem like a no-brainer, but Chodkowski says chefs all across the U.S. are key in producing a more sustainable food system.
“I think participation or involvement on the part of chefs is not just good, it is essential,” Chodkowski says. “Further understanding where farmers are, where their challenges are — it’s a discussion that includes chefs in the broadest sense.”
That’s why he was invited to speak with the ICC students about his work at both Field Day and Harvest. The topics ranged from from slightly geeky produce questions —“Do vegetables have terroir?” And “Does climate affect the taste of radishes?” — to policies, like the Food Safety and Modernization Act, that affect local farmers.
And while the conversation took place in a classroom about 750 miles away, Chodkowski says there’s a main point that has local resonance.
“Folks that live in rural America really are stewards of vast swaths of the country,” he says. “And for people who care about the environment, it’s important to develop that relationship and help nurture the economic opportunities rural America either represents or struggles with so they are more in a position to do the things we hope would be done.”