elements is already synonymous with creativity and panache. Chef Scott Anderson and his staff are dedicated to exploring the world of food for excitingly different tastes. The backbone of his approach is that eating nourishes the soul as well as the body.
But how can he access distinctive ingredients for diverse dishes without resorting to costly methods of delivery? Enter Dave Zaback of Z Farms on Princeton Pike in Lawrenceville. Both “Farmer Dave” and Chef Anderson have been dedicated to expanding the range of local produce for years. In 2010 when Zaback began cultivating his own 15-acre farm, they started a collaboration that now brings deliciously new products to the tables at elements. What is on offer is not your usual mixed greens.
Ever eager to expand the reach of what can be grown organically in New Jersey, Zaback is willing to stretch. As a result of his expertise and care, diners at elements have been introduced to several items from around the world.
Ficoide glaciale, from France, is a crisp, succulent green with a slight lemon flavor. Also known as ice lettuce, it adds punch to salads and can be wilted as part of savory dishes. From the other side of the globe comes celtuce. This Chinese vegetable is a long green stalk that intriguingly combines the flavors of broccoli, lettuce, and celery with a water chestnut texture. The leaves can be used much the same as dandelion greens. Adding to these exciting new tastes, Zaback provides Piracicaba broccoli (sweeter than the common variety), Tuscano kale, and a colorful palette of squashes as vibrant on the plate as a Gauguin still life.
Each winter, Zaback sits with Anderson and his staff to discuss discoveries and to make up a new wish list of ingredients. His years of training at various local farms gives him a depth of understanding about what can and cannot thrive in the Princeton growing zone. Some happy accidents also happen. Last year the harvest missed some of the Jerusalem artichokes, also known as sunchokes, and they wintered over. Seeing them this spring, Anderson tried the tiny tubers and found them sweeter. Eureka!
Z Farms is also an active participant in the Community Supported Agriculture system (CSA). In addition, they can be found at numerous farmers’ markets. Ably assisted by his genial father, who mans the till, Zaback is carefully expanding his presence in the region.
elements’ hallmark is to look to what is freshest and local for inspiration. Anderson’s exacting standards demand the best quality. He is consistently open to inspiration based on what is available at the moment. By focusing on the ingredients and working with those that are at their peak currently, his dishes are constantly reinterpreted. Consistency of excellence trumps cookie cutter preparation. Anderson calls it “Interpretative American Cuisine” because he approaches dishes as canvases and paints what feels right, while staying grounded in the essence of the ingredients.
Having local resources like Z Farms that can provide distinctive produce of the highest quality allows elements to pursue its mission of excellence. This mission has garnered numerous awards including Anderson being named a James Beard semifinalist in 2013 and 2014. Opinionated About Dining also ranked elements No. 20 among its top 100 U.S. restaurants.
The eagerly awaited reopening of elements is scheduled for later this summer. Farmer Dave will be on hand with the best that Mother Nature can offer.
elements, 66 Witherspoon Street, Princeton. 609-924-0078. www.elementsprinceton.com. See ad, page 21.