Sustainable Agriculture

What is the 'farm to table' food movement?
Answered by Tom Colicchio, Charlie Trotter and 5 others
  • Tom Colicchio

    Tom Colicchio

  • Charlie Trotter

    Charlie Trotter

  • Thomas Keller

    Thomas Keller

  • Jose Andres

    Jose Andres

  • David Chang

    David Chang

  • Patrick O'Connell

    Patrick O'Connell

  • Alice Waters

    Alice Waters

  1. Tom Colicchio Chef/Owner, Craft Restaurants and Colicchio & Sons


    Farm to table, it's a buzzword now, just buying stuff directly from a farm versus through a large feedlot or through mass-produced food. It's really buying food from people who are producing food on a very small scale. Usually it's better. Usually the closer you can get to eating something that comes out of the ground, the better it's going to be if it's produce. If you're buying stuff that's shipped from halfway around the world, by the time it gets here it may be out of the ground for two weeks. If you can get something out of the ground within 24 hours and you're cooking it, it's night and day.

    Same thing with fish. There are fishing boats that are going out there, and they're staying out there for three or four weeks at a time. And they're coming back and you're getting that fish. It's not fresh. If you're buying from day boats that are going out for 24 hours and coming right back, it's a very different product. And so farm to table, locavore, a lot of these words now, they've become marketing strategies for a lot of people. I guess, on one hand, it's good because more people are sort of understanding it and understanding the importance of it. But on the other hand, I think a lot of people are misusing it and mislabeling it.

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  2. Charlie Trotter Executive Chef, Charlie Trotter’s


    The Farm to Table Movement is an extension of kind of what began in the '60s and '70s, with, if you will, almost the hippie movement, or the back-to-the-earth movement, or the organic food, or the natural food, or support-the-local-farmer movement. Certainly, someone like an Alice Waters has been instrumental in terms of advocating and being a spokesperson for that. 

    It's a little easier in certain parts of the country to work a little bit more locally, and we're a little pressed sometimes in the winter months to go quite from the farm to the table. But for much of the year, we do that sort of thing. I guess part of it is you want something from the land or from the sea at your backdoor as quickly as you can possibly get it.

    And you want natural product, and clean product, and produce product, anyway, that comes from crops that have been rotated, and so there's just more flavor, and it's just more interesting. And it's an exciting time to be not just a cook or a restaurant operator in America, but it's a really exciting time to be a consumer at restaurants in America.

    You can, you could go to -- you used to have to go to just certain gourmet temples to eat well. And now you can drive across country and stop at a, I'll just use an example with picking one out of the blue, but you could stop at a P.F. Chang's in Dubuque, Iowa, and get seared raw tuna over organic lettuce greens, at what we might consider to be almost like a fast food-type or an elevated fast food-type of restaurant. You could have never found that 15 years ago. So there's been this thing where the consumer learns more and understands more, and they demand more, whether it's through watching things on television -- the Food Network, and other, Bravo, and all these, A&E -- or the cooking magazines that are out there, or just the awareness. And so it's a great time to be a consumer of food in America. 

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  3. Thomas Keller Chef / Owner of The French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery, Bar Bouchon & Ad Hoc


    Well, it's interesting because when we think about these things that we're talking about now, which is seasonal cooking, or farm-to-table, organic or natural, and it hasn't been so many generations removed from where we are. My grandmother and my grandmother's generation was always about farm-to-table. There was always that connection with the market and where the food came from. It was that generation after World War II, where convenience foods, fast foods, started to make in-roads into the consumers' diets, basically because both parents were out in the workforce, and they had to feed their children differently or feed their families in more convenient ways.

    Now we start to return back to that, and I don't say, "Now we start to return back to that," because there was a significant time in my career -- and that was in 1979 -- when I was first introduced to a chef named Jean-Louis Palladin in Washington, D.C., who had a restaurant called Jean-Louis at the Watergate. He had just come over from France, and he was amazed that there was not that connection, that there weren't those relationships with chefs and farmers. And he went out to discover the farms again, right around Washington, D.C.

    That was something that was inspiring to me, something that also was obvious and natural. Chefs should have relationships with where their food comes from, with the individuals who are growing them: the farmers, the fishermen, the foragers. I think that's kind of when we started to rethink what we did, chefs did. And of course, the recognition of chefs and cuisine in America, again, started to really unfold at that time, and we started to realize what the importance of the food was and how important the food was and how important chefs were in the food and the significance that chefs played on what's available to the consumer. So it's not that far away from generations that were raised with that farm-to-table kind of scenario.

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  4. Jose Andres Chef/Owner, ThinkFoodGroup


    In the last few years we've seen many movements. Farm to table will be one which you could argue you can put it under the local, the localism, kind of -- and I love that and I endorse that only to a degree. The history of mankind has been created through commerce, and commerce between regions, between countries, between continents is what very much has made humanity what it is today.

    If all of a sudden we say we can only live locally with the produce we consume locally, almost in a total radicalism, it's not sustainable. We love the champagne from France, and we love the ibérico ham from Spain and the parmesan from Italy. So I will say I would love to be more pragmatic. Obviously, if I can be buying the tomatoes in the middle of the summer from local farmers, I'm going to do my effort to do that, even knowing that sometimes it's more expensive than the tomatoes that are coming from Mexico.

    So I will always endorse that, but within parameters of pragmatism. Because we need to remember that if someone tells me you should not eat a tomato in January, I will agree to a degree. Why? Because in December, it's summer in another part of the world, and if we have transportation, why can't we be getting those tomatoes in the middle of January to Washington, D.C.?

    I could argue both ways. But yes, I will always say that any decision you make is always going to have consequences, and we need to think about those. If one day we say, "Let's stop eating tuna," I will support that, but we need to understand that there's going to be thousands, hundreds of thousands of families around the world that depend on the fishing of that tuna that we are going to have to deal with.

    So I don't want tuna to disappear, but at the same time, when we make decisions, we need to always understand the consequences. We cannot make these decisions one-sided. We need to see the 365-degree spectrum to understand the action and reaction and the consequences to the decisions we make.

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  5. David Chang Chef/Owner of Momofuku


    Farm to table is something that I've never quite understood as a culinary movement. I feel farm to table is, what, getting the best possible produce and giving it to your restaurant and selling it at your restaurant? That's what you're supposed to do. I don't know why you should be congratulated for doing what you're supposed to do. What are you supposed to say, you're selling 90-day-frozen peaches? It's your responsibility as a chef, as a business owner, I feel, not to screw your customer over but to provide the best thing you can afford. I think it's great that there are restaurants that are doing farm to table, and some of them deserve all the accolades.

    But I feel that it's taking a shortcut, because -- and I got in a lot of trouble for this, when I said this whole fake comment got totally taken out of context, when I did a talk with Tony Bourdain. I learned that the media will only take out the one sentence, and I said an inflammatory thing about San Francisco, but in the context of what I had said, I wouldn't take it back. I said that farm to table is a wonderful thing. It's just that, why does everyone have to be doing it? I think it's going to stunt any development, particularly to, say, the San Francisco area. Now it's going through a sort of culinary renaissance, but it was so hard to open up a restaurant that did anything new that didn't happen not to be Italian, and not be oriented by Chez Panisse, which to this day is fine. Chez Panisse went from Chez Panisse, Café Fanny, Oliveto, to modern-day Quince. And Michael Tusk is like the modern-day version of that family, that family tree. And it's a wonderful thing.

    I love all those restaurants, but not every restaurant needs to follow that lineage. All I said was, "In San Francisco, is the cuisine as diverse as the rest of the culture? Sexually, politically, whatever." I don't think the question is "yes." I don't think we can ever say "yes," not just in San Francisco, but America in general, and in New York. Why does every restaurant have to be the same? Why does everyone have to open up a hamburger restaurant? Why does everyone have to do the same thing? And that became sort of, for me, what farm to table came to represent was this homogenized sameness.

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  6. Patrick O'Connell Chef/Proprietor, The Inn at Little Washington


    Originally nothing was delivered here whatsoever, and if you called a purveyor 65 miles away in Washington, D.C., they would say, "What do you mean you're in Washington, Virginia? Make up your mind, buddy. You can't be in both places. You're either in Washington, or you're in Virginia."

    I would say, "No, it's a little village, and you go through this --"

    "No, we're not going out there. Are you crazy? Drive all the way out there?"

    So it was, "Oh, my God, we're going to have find out what we can look for right here that's available." So soon I found a retired doctor who had a trout farm. His wife was smoking the trout, and I found a butcher who had a ham house, and we became friends. Then I found a man who wanted to get out of the cattle business and started raising shitake mushrooms, which he called "shit takes." It just progressed that way, and then I would make stops along the way to work. I'd go to an old widow's garden, and she'd have a little bit of sorrel, and then our neighbor here in town grew herbs for us until she was 100. She lasted until she was 107, and it was a kind of network of this tiny little community.

    It was a little like stone soup. Everybody had something they wanted to contribute to this cause, and they loved the idea that rich and fancy city people would come out here and eat something from their garden. It was kind of like an old fairy tale, and then it just continued to now we have our farmer living here on the property.

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  7. Alice Waters Owner of Chez Panisse Restaurant and Founder of the Edible Schoolyard Project


    I mean, when I first started the restaurant, I wasn't looking for organic, local food. I was looking for a taste of what I had experienced when I went to France. I wanted those little strawberries. I wanted that baguette. I wanted that butter. I wanted those eggs like that. I wanted the wine like that too. So it wasn't until I really found local people that were growing the right varietals of fruits and vegetables, and the people that are raising the lamb to a certain age on their land and allowing them to graze on the land, and they would butcher them for us to have at the restaurant -- I understood that the flavor comes from the people who were planting the right varietals in the right place, and that they are taking care of it, and then they're picking it when it's ripe and then they're bringing it to me.

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