Knowing and Growing What Chefs Want and What’s Profitable with chef and farmer, The Culinary Gardener, Evan Chender (FSFS115)

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When it comes to market gardening one of the primary outlets for produce are restaurants.

A big advantage of restaurants is they can typically take a large quantity of produce all in one delivery, and do that consistently.

Odds are if you are in this space and you are growing a lot of salad mix or tomatoes, then restaurants are taking up the bulk of it.

What about selling to restaurants in a different way?

In a way where it isn’t all about selling quantity or dare I say common crops like salad greens.

What about growing specialty crops just for restaurants, or better said, just for chefs?

That’s what my guest today, the culinary gardener Evan Chender has setup his farm to do. Utilizing his experience as a chef he’s set out to produce niche crops for chefs such as edible flowers and more exotic cultivars and types of vegetables. It’s this niche approach that has given him an edge in his marketplace. While a lot of other farmers just grow salad mix, Evan stands out because he produces crops that others don’t. He’s also utilizing his knowledge from his career as a chef to narrow down what he grows.

In this episode, Evan will talk about what chefs look for and value in vegetables, how he decides what crops to grow and test them, and he gets into some of the specialty crops he grows, some of which you probably haven’t heard of.

Today it’s where the worlds of the chef and the farmer collide with Evan Chender.

Connect with Evan:

Evan on Instagram

Evan’s Website

Notes from the conversation:

  • I’m trying to express people that 2 days old is still a very high quality fresh product that they get. The flavor and the vibrancy that you get from a minutes or hours old doesn’t exist after a day that it was picked up from the ground. The taste of its purest flavor and to do enough with them in kitchen is to be able to have each flavor distill so that you can taste the pureness of the fresh food that I picked from the ground, food that I been growing and nurturing for a month.
  • The best way to break the barrier is to deliver some samples. To connect with some chefs is to inform them earlier and ask for their time. Introduce them your product and let them talk on their insights on the product.
  • Quality and diversity of the raw material is more important in creating of a product. Value of the product is also important which will also add premium on its worth.
  • The consistency of the product is a big factor in providing a good quality vegetable, package will also add to its presentation. Its affect on how you’re thinking about the dish before you eat it.
  • Flavour is the backbone but you need to consider the texture, colour and size. All of them together what makes the variety successful. So far flavour is the number one because sometimes colour, size and texture are merely not important but the flavour can stand alone that the kind doesn’t matter.
  • Each of the restaurants that I been working has a different point of view and as a chef I have a unique individual. Some restaurants required fresh vegetable to the extent that they want to see the real roots and fresh stems of the vegetable. By having a variety of different crops move them around in different places.
  • Developing a good name in myself makes me move on the tertiary or secondary streams with that people trust me. The focus and passion that I put into everything I grow is I am putting the confidence.
  • I am targeting a high end and expensive restaurant with having a lot more space wherein I can grow a lot of products which added value and make it profitable. I also work with less expensive but really care about the food.
  • Some of the things, having no comparison standards, it is a challenge on the amount of labour that it takes to grow. On how much I have and probably sell it less. But it is a big challenge setting price-in, you need to make sure it is profitable and need to deliver on everything. But that point, it does not matter what is costs. If it’s delicious, gorgeous, fresh, handled with care, process with care, the price tag is irrelevant and people will buy it.
  • In terms of when to pick and what I am looking for in a product that have been testing. But at the same a lot of it is going to variety description and then planting it, exploring how this product put work in my market and as I am harvesting it. I’ve gone to where I am in making this bottom mistakes by making different trial. This is the best way for me to learn because there is no book on this, there’s no else trying this and put on reviews for farmers.
  • Generally you can modify it in some way to get sellable crops that year you grow it. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m going to grow it again and does the same thing.
  • A lot of chefs don’t make many requests, having what they want. A lot of them not were thinking a year ahead even six months ahead. I only get a few requests a year for me to grow specific things like exclusively for certain restaurants. But it’s great because as long as you pull it off, you have guaranteed sale basically.
  • I don’t like planting vegetable because it is on trend. I take into consideration that it is on trend, I take into consideration that it is my point of view on that crop or herb. I decide to grow some and maybe people will into it a year or two or five years or not at all. I definitely pay attention to food trend, being on instagram because you can just see so much all the time right at your fingertips. You don’t have to really doing some research and necessarily going to some restaurant and eating. If I feel that it has chance then I’ll give it a go, maybe I will do something similar to that food on trend but maybe I will do in different variety.
  • There still a lot of way doing down even through the one maybe will get like a passing grade (pass or fail), if they pass it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are here to stay. Like a chef in a restaurant, like the corner gardener is a complete expression of me. A lot of where I grow it’s because I want to grow it and I really loved it. That is the number one motivating factor in the end.
  • Edible flowers are one of the most profitable crops and it is easy to grow. The only thing that is a challenge is the labour and time taking them and they’re extremely profitable per quantity. Edible flower is somewhat my bread and butter especially in the summer where I don’t have a lot of this high value grains. That would be the crops that I would recommend for profitability and also they don’t really demanding on high fertility requirement. Another one would be herbs; they might be challenging to grow. Another one would be New Zealand spinach or tetragonia, it’s like spreading plants. It grows on the beaches and you just pick on the leaves peak from two nodes down. It’s really dependable like no pasture disease.
  • Stone barns were the last real job that I actually learn a lot. It was extremely the imperative experience for me, set the tone for me to guide into doing stuff on my own and being able to experiment and have a backbone. It was a fantastic experience and got me inspired to do that kind of work to market chefs and to have to have those close relationships. Still in my mind to have a farm and connect it into a restaurant that is on site or that is on by a restaurant where I can grow whatever the chef wanted. I love the idea of having an intimate relationship between chef and grower that you can just see and feel it in the food.
  • It would be a lot of space if you are cultivating in a relatively intensive scale. Cropping vegetables two to three times a year, you would more than a restaurant to manage.
  • Mainly with the bed preparation going from a crop in the bed and transitioning it into a bed that is ready to receive another crop or it’s direct transferred on it. It almost exactly the same as the one I was taught there. It works so well for me because in the greenhouse space is very valuable and there’s not really much time to let a bed sit. The one thing that I do differently do now on my scale is if it’s a crop of green that needs to come out, instead of poling them I’m going to use my power harrow to start breaking them down. But in the greenhouse you will pole everything out and then let it set for a day or two. Let the roots start to break down a little bit and then add compost in the soil elements, brought fork either use tiller which is a electric drill operated, shallow to works the top two inches of the soil and then use a bed roller to make a nice firm seed bed. To accomplish the seed bed in texture part by using a power harrow, the shallow setting is about two inches and it has a roller on the back that makes a nice and final textured bed.
  • The most straight forward but most effective way that I found to keep weed from taking over is to spend a lot of time cultivating. We use the two and half inch cultivating hole because our rows are relatively narrow if we do three to four rows per bed. The small tools are really helpful in getting in between the rows, in between the plants and the rows that are transplanted. But it is really an important to be dedicated in cultivating regularly. If you don’t let weed go to seeds and you will be able to control our weed population in a short period of time.
  • Biodynamic planting calendar is an easy way to incorporate bio-dynamics into one’s farm. The most important thing about bio-dynamics is the farm as a close system. By having a close system you soil be taken into the next level, working with highest quality of soil nutrients, compost of animal manure that were fully composted then you are going to be extremely successful.
  • Managing an acre versus a thousand of square feet, is not 5 times the work because buying a BCS with the attachment that I purchased to power harrow, rotary plow and other equipment that I have are really incredible soil.
  • It’s going to be a profitable business in year 1. I’m going to be able to survive this year but looking at the next two to three years. I’m focused on increasing production on a relatively the same manner of land.

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