Executive Chef Thomas Kearney reveals Local Sourcing Secrets

Slow Food NYC intern, Elisabeth Nelson Scully, recently spoke with Snail of Approval executive chef, Thomas Kearney of the Farm on Adderley about what it takes to source locally. Chef Kearney revealed some challenges and secrets to remaining wholesome to a restaurant's procurement.

Chef Kearney & the Farm on Adderley is hosting the first of five Harvest Dinners on September 30. Meet Chef Kearney and enjoy locally sourced, seasonal food by reserving a ticket.


- Interview Notes -

SFNYC:  You mentioned in Edible Brooklyn that sourcing locally in 2006, when The Farm on Adderly opened, meant, “Co-ops of a few farmers getting together, like Lancaster Farm Fresh, to lease a truck and send produce to New York City once a week,” but today demand has built up supply such that you can get local produce, dairy, meat and poultry delivered every day of the week.  Aside from supply, what else in the distribution chain has most notably changed-for better and for worse- in the last seven years?

Tom Kearney:  More choices, more purveyors, more delivery days per week.  Purchasing a whole animal is now more of a possibility. You are now seeing a lot more regional/local products coming from conventional purveyors. There's less of a need to have to go to a green market to shop for your restaurant now.

SFNYC:  Farmers and chefs have a symbiotic relationship and look to each other for inspiration, taste, and choice.  How do you find and build relationships with your producers?

TK:  I'll do a lot of research, some word of mouth and just plain exploratory outreach. Some folks are directly soliciting us. I think mutual respect is a good starting point for a strong working relationship. Understanding what it's like to be in the other person's shoes helps. For us this means planning menu changes according to what's planted and when it might be ready to harvest. We've gotten into it with certain farmers where we'll buy seeds and actually have custom crops. I think visiting is important too.

SFNYC:  When was your first time on a farm?

TK:  It's funny I grew up on an old dairy farm that was decommissioned. I don't think that counts though. As a Chef/Cook I really have only recently started visiting farms. Maybe when we first opened the restaurant seven years ago when I first visited Jorge Carmona's place out in Brenigsville, PA. He leases it from Menonite farmers. The tractors don't use rubber. I spent a summer living with Josh and Jessica Applestone from Fleisher's. They are insanely knowledgable and Josh and I have visited farms.

SFNYC:  You have clearly been a mentor to others in the industry, with six of The Farm’s own opening spots in the area, What advice would you give chefs and restaurateurs about sourcing regionally and sustainably-produced ingredients?

TK:  Advice specifically about sourcing...well this whole interest in sourcing regionally comes more from a concern about sustainability in the first place. So I'd say stay informed about the world you live in and know that what you do has an impact. Every little decision has an outcome.

SFNYC:  The industrial food system isn’t going anywhere, though what do you think it could stand to learn from regional food systems that could actually change the future of food?

You could cite things like biodiversity and polyculture as remedies. But I think it's hard to cherry pick examples because of the interconnectedness of the whole industrial matrix of how we live. To be honest I think we should probably build our suburbs differently as a first step. Sprawl is one of these factors that demands long supply chains, expansive distribution channels, and removes the average person from the agricultural landscape. With sprawl you see economies of scale that might not otherwise be developed. So in order to get to a place where we can all engage in something like having a farm that's a self-sustaining polyculture model we need to have a population that inhabits a community not sprawling cul de sacs. So municipal zoning is a higher priority for me than say heirloom vegetables.

I think I may have avoided the premise of the question here. I sort of don't think that the industrial food system can adapt to or learn from the principals of regional farming.

SFNYC:  When was your first time in the kitchen?  Were you immediately hooked?

TK:  I always loved cooking with my Grandfather in his kitchen at a young age. I'm not sure if that was a significant turning point that led me to the professional kitchen but it's a vivid and loving memory.

I think what led me to restaurant kitchens was a combination of things; the desire to work with my hands, the yearning to make a living doing something honest, and the desire for that endeavor to be in New York City. I think what's kept me at it for all these years is the camaraderie of restaurant work culture, the energy and pace of service and the nocturnal existence.

SFNYC:  Right now is a good time to preserve the harvest.  What are you currently putting-up?  What is your favorite method?

TK:  In the restaurant it's tough to preserve things because of department of health restrictions. We can't really do canning, air-dried sausages or fermentations. We'll preserve things that are "not for sale".  We'll do lacto-fermentations of cucumbers, peppers, turnips and cabbage (sauerkraut). This time of year we'll also see more spicy peppers than we know what to do with so we'll make loads of harissa and freeze it; chili oils and chili pepper vinegars. We'll hang and dry herbs. I love lacto-fermentation. I like the connection to the tradition of pre-refrigeration. I like the fact that a lot of the nutritional value of the vegetable is preserved as well.

SFNYC:  Brooklyn Exposed named you as someone who’s shaping the local wine world for the better.  I also read that you are super into beer right now.  What is your favorite local brew?

TK:  I pretty much love anything that Barrier does. Peekskill Brewery is also just turning out really exciting beers.

SFNYC:  What are your favorite places for food and drink in Ditmas Park?

TK:  Living in Ditmas Park is a bit like living in a Hamlet so there are only so many places. I'm happy to satiate my pizza craving at Wheated on Church Avenue; Mimi's is solid for hummus and the best pita I've ever had.

Related Programs:  Snail of Approval