Pines Tavern’s Executive Chef Jason Culp is confident that while his own convictions in the value of using local food may have their foundations in ethical eating and a commitment to the local economy; convincing others is easy on one simple, unadorned point: taste. Fresh, local food tastes better than anything else.
“If you start with rocks, you get rocks. If you start with gold, you get gold,” says Jason, who attended the recent Local Food Showcase at Chatham University with his culinary staff. When the Examiner asked for a photo, the group happily agreed, showing their enthusiasm in spreading the word of local food and Pines Tavern’s place in this exciting, progressive movement.
Pittsburgh’s Local Food Guide defines eating locally as “consuming food as closely as possible to the source”. In 2000, the Pines Tavern started growing heirloom vegetables, edible flowers, berries, fancy greens and baby lettuce right smack on their property. The restaurant purchases local meats, such as lamb from Elysian Fields. Local produce that is not grown on the Pine’s landscape is purchased from local farms.
Jason says there is no way to calculate the value of the feelings expressed by a guest when they visit the Pines Taverns’ gardens and new greenhouse. Seeing a patron’s candid pleasure as they pick the vegetables and realize exactly what goes on their plates is immeasurable. You cannot quantify a person’s perceived value in slowing down to smell the “edible” flowers.
Guests appreciate the high standards Jason places on their health, displaying his concern by crafting nourishing dishes. The patrons that tell Jason they do not have time for garden visits seem to be the ones who return most often. Diners enjoy the peace of the Pines Tavern landscape and the unmatched taste of the whole, nutritious foods on the menu.
Jason says purchasing local foods requires more thought about the menu. The menus and specials are not only “designed with the seasons in mind, reflecting the availability of farm fresh ingredients”, but depending on local growing conditions, the menu (and chef!) requires flexibility. Changeovers in the local produce he is expecting can occur, but when you are doing business with like-minded suppliers, who grow the local foods and have a passion for their products, the substitutions are acceptable.
Logistics can also be a nightmare, according to Jason. Instead of having one, big Sysco truck pull up to your backdoor, you have lots of vendors representing the small farms of Ohio and Southwestern Pennsylvania. Coordinating pick-ups, drop-offs and general seasonal availability is complicated, but Jason insists it worth it! To this persevering chef, local food is a dream come true.
Pines Tavern is a gem in Pittsburgh’s local foodshed. They are truly an embodiment of the benefits of eating locally (see below). Plan your visit by first checking their very informative website for menu specials, wine pairings, outdoor eating hours, and special events.
Urban Food Works’ Benefits of Eating Locally:
- A Friendly and Fresh Connection: Supporting local farm production puts a “face” behind the foods we consume and keeps us connected to the seasons, as well as the unique flavor and diversity of local crops.
- Local Means Green: Buying produce from local growers reduces the environmental impact and costs of transporting product.
- Preserving Character: Small local farms are a valuable component of a community’s character, helping maintain agricultural heritage, preserve land use diversity, and moderate development.
- Crop Diversity and Quality: Many farmers producing for a local market choose to diversify, growing a variety of crops instead of just one. This is a boon for biodiversity and your palate, since local crops are harvested at their peak of freshness and flavor.
- Local Means Green — Again: Minimizing handling and transportation costs gives farmers maximum return on their investment. And most of the money spent on local production stays in the community, “greening up” the local economy.