"Eat local, drink global,” says chef #b#Christopher Albrecht#/b# of Eno Terra restaurant in Kingston.
It’s a catchy phrase, particularly for a talk that he will give to a local networking group with a green focus. Albrecht will be the guest speaker at the Princeton chapter of Gotham Networking on Thursday, August 12, at 7:30 p.m. at Eno Terra. Cost: $30. Visit www.gothamnetworking.com.
But for Albrecht, “eat local, drink global” is more than a catch phrase and more than a philosophy on food and eating. It is a philosophy that encompasses all of the business practices at Eno Terra and its sister restaurants in the Momo Group (which also includes Terra Momo, the Witherspoon Bread Company, Nova Terra, Teresa Caffe, and Mediterra). “There are many definitions of ‘local.’ Some are obvious, some less so,” says Albrecht.
The first and most obvious definition, explains Albrecht, is “proximity. There are many good reasons to go local; the convenience, the economy of travel, and the quality of the food you eat.”
The farther the food must travel — in time and distance — from the garden to the table, the more flavor, texture, and nutritional value it loses. Eating local means enjoying the best meat, poultry, and produce in season.
But the reality of life is that if we ate only food produced within an hour so drive and drank only beverages and wines produced in New Jersey, our diets would be as limited as they were in the days before refrigeration and fast transportation made it possible to enjoy items such as avocados and mangoes, as well as a wide variety of wines.
#b#The new local#/b#. “Let’s face it. There are not a lot of wines produced in New Jersey,” Albrecht says. That means he must look outside the region to bring a wide variety of wines to the restaurant. Drinking globally doesn’t mean, however, that you must give up the idea of local. You just have to redefine it.
“When I look for suppliers in New Jersey I look for small family businesses that offer quality. When I look for food or wine globally I want the same characteristics,” Albrecht says. He has found it most often in Italy. “The Italian sensibility embodies those qualities. That’s why we emphasize Italian wine here at Eno Terra,” he says.
But Albrecht doesn’t limit his search to one country. He looks for the best regional producers for each type of food he serves. “For seafood, Alaska has some of the best-managed fisheries in the world,” he says. “We’ve also developed local relationships with shrimp and salmon producers there. There are excellent family fisheries that have the same ideas about quality and service that we do. Those are the people we want to work with.”
#b#Local relationships#/b#. When working with New Jersey farmers Albrecht likes to go to the farm, meet the owners, talk to them about their products, and see exactly how they produce the food he will buy. He doesn’t usually have that opportunity with out-of-state or out-of-country suppliers, but he says he still wants to develop those local relationships, even if the other person is half a world away.
One of the best ways to make sure you are working with people who have the same values as you is through personal referrals. “When I am looking for a new supplier I look for personal referrals from other farmers,” Albrecht says. “There are many farmers who will do this for each other.”
#b#Not just for restaurants#/b#. “Eating locally” is not just for restaurants. Individuals can also enjoy the same quality of food from local farmers. Albrecht particularly enjoys Muth Family Farm in Williamstown. Everything on the farm is organically grown and produced. He also recommends Griggstown Farm for its poultry products. “They really embrace the idea of farming as an expression of their art,” says Albrecht.
The easiest way to eat delicious, fresh food daily is to shop the farmer’s markets with a different eye. Rather than making a list of what you want to cook for the week, go to the market, see what is in season, what looks the freshest, and then plan your meals around it. “If you see great eggplant this week, buy it and then use it for the basis for your meal. If you don’t know any eggplant recipes, it’s easy to look them up in a cookbook,” he says.
Start a conversation with the people who work at the stand, he suggests, and find out what will be in season in the coming weeks. “Stone fruit, such as peaches, are great this year because of the hot weather,” he says. “And melons have also been really delicious. If you talk to farmers you’ll find out these things and you can be ready to take advantage of the best. There is so much information out there. The farmers know it and they are always willing to share.”
A central Jersey native, Albrecht graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, in 1996, and then headed to Manhattan to work at Gramercy Tavern. He worked closely with “Top Chef” Tom Colicchio for three years, becoming the saucier. He then studied another three years with Beard-award-winning pastry chef Claudia Fleming, working his way to assistant pastry chef. He worked directly with her to publish her book, “The Last Course.”
Albrecht also participated as a sous chef in the opening of Colicchio’s innovative Craft Restaurant in New York City before assuming the role of executive chef at Craftsteak Las Vegas. He has worked in charity and industry events such as the Masters of Food and Wine, Taste of the Nation, and Bon Appetit Focus.
His culinary style, he says, “focuses on high-quality seasonal ingredients from small, family-owned and operated farms and ranches, delivered at the peak of their flavor.” His goal is to make consumers aware of who is your farmer.