Thursday, May 19, 2016


Just this moment, I entered "farm to table restaurants" into the Chrome search engine and came up with almost five million hits.

The idea behind F-T is local sourcing of ingredients.  Fans and practitioners are called locavores.   

According to lore, this movement originated more than 40 years ago when Alice Waters opened the famed Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA.  In California, a state where farms and farmers' markets operate year-round, there are plenty of fresh ingredients within local reach.  In places like the Northeast or the Rocky Mountain states, not so much.  

But still the F-T restaurants abound.  I assume that those in inclement climes arrange for the airfreighting of desirable out-of-season products, rather as florists do.  (Given that, I wonder, what isn't a farm-to-table restaurant?  Are there Skittles restaurants?)

The Significant Other and I have eaten at several F-T spots.  While we are neither dedicated foodies nor members of any "food as sacrament" sect, we generally have enjoyed these restaurants. 

Several months ago, an F-T opened in our New York suburb. Since it wasn't yet another pizzeria, the SO made reservations and off we went. 

The dishes at the new restaurant featured items commonly found at other F-T joints -- a greater than usual number of parsnips and natural, humanely raised meats with way more fat than the beef, pork and lamb served in less virtuous eateries.  

And then there was another thing.


Grits now are regular features in F-T restaurants.  Chez Panisse has served grits.  Cookbooks by the chef/founders of such restaurants include grits recipes.  Virtually every F-T spot has a "shrimp and grits" entree on its menu.  

Traditionally grits were a southern dish.  I first encountered them when I lived for several years in the American South (okay, Texas, but close enough), where grits were served for breakfast, often alongside bacon and eggs.

In fact, grits have virtually no flavor and require copious enhancements to become even remotely interesting.   One of these is blonde gravy, made from a roux of bacon or sausage fat with flour and then milk.  Other common enhancements are large dollops of butter or syrup or strong cheese, usually with plenty of salt and/or sugar.

Texas breakfast: biscuits and grits with gravy 

I tried grits several times, but bland mush has never been an interest of mine.  On the other hand, I grew fond of many other southern foods, from collards to jambalaya to the many varieties of barbecue to pulled pork to Tex Mex and chili.

What surprises me is that of all the fine southern cuisine available, grits dishes are the ones that have become standards on elite restaurant menus.

The Origin of Grits

Grits are made of ground corn that is boiled with water or milk to form a sort of porridge. We also eat corn on the cob in the summers, and corn can be a nice addition to salads or as a base for quiches.    

Corn was a major part of native diets in the Sonoran Desert and what is now Mexico, where Amerinds were hybridizing new corn plants to increase production as long as 7,000 years ago.

In succeeding centuries, however, corn has become a smaller and smaller part of the American diet.  More than half the corn grown in the U.S. now is used to feed livestock here and abroad.  Another 40 percent is turned into ethanol fuel for cars and trucks.

I'm not going to say that grits are the reason we have diverted our corn production to other uses.  But my guess is that grits account for part of it.  


For a rather bland food, grits have acquired more partisans than I would expect.  

Below is an ardent amateur hip hop endorsement of grits and gravy.

And here is an anti-grits manifesto.

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