farm to fork: graze restaurant
Last week marked the official end to the Sweet Digz Community Supported Agriculture box program for 2014. Sixteen weeks of delivering freshly harvested vegetables to supporters who signed up in the spring not knowing what goodness each box would hold. While the box program is over, Kimi and Kareno are still hard to work to supply their restaurant customers.
Graze Restaurant has been a partner in this first year for Sweet Digz. Located in Vancouver, Graze is an all-plant based fine dining establishment that opened in May 2013 to solid reviews. Step inside from the unassuming front on Fraser Street in East Vancouver, and the well-appointed interior greets you with captivating art and an inviting place to sit and enjoy one of the most creative menus in town. It’s philosophy is simple. Create delicious food using locally-sourced and organic ingredients and you can’t go wrong. Behind this concept is a much larger commitment to sustainable restaurant practices as outlined on their website: “Building on this foundation, we also grow our own herbs & vegetables, collect rainwater for our garden, compost our kitchen waste, reduce/reuse/recycle everything we can, support ethical suppliers, reduce our power consumption, solar heat our hot water, are very particular about our paper and cleaning products and are always looking for ways to do even more.”
Chef Karen McAthy is the mastermind behind the creative dishes that pour out of the kitchen. It might surprise a few that Chef Karen is self-taught. A vegan since age 12, her mother supported her eating choices but Karen had to cook her own food so she took up the challenge and a chef was born. As Karen studied for her degree in Political Science, she worked part-time and honed her cooking skills in various restaurant kitchens on campus. It wasn’t until she was visiting London, England looking into Masters and PhD programs, that she had a change of heart and decided on a career as a chef. Along the way, Karen took classes and learnt all she could not just about techniques but about the art and science of food, and practised her craft at every chance she could. This is, in part, what makes her so good at what she does. The other secret is that Karen has never forgotten her roots.
Growing up with parents from farming backgrounds (her father had raised pigs in Australia and her mother was part of the family farm in Saskatchewan), Karen has an irretractable connection to the land and an understanding of the importance of farmers to our food production. On this day, she is visiting Sweet Digz to pick vegetables fresh from the farm to create a menu for two corporate events to be held later in the week. Her enthusiasm is clearly evident as she wanders through Kimi’s herb garden and delights in the rosemary she finds hidden in the flowering nasturtiums and calendula. Before long though she is out in the fields with Kimi and Kareno harvesting green beans and picking out patty pans. It is a quick but welcome visit and soon Chef Karen heads back to the kitchen at Graze.
There isn’t much time to experiment before preparations for the evening service start at Graze but Chef Karen is keen to try out her idea for spinach with chestnut sage creme in a red lentil tart. The fresh sage comes from the herb garden at the back of the restaurant and it’s a perfect compliment to the spinach from Sweet Digz. After the taste test Chef Karen confirms the final dish will include a caramelized beet topping but for now she turns her attention to the menu for the evening and using some of the delicious ingredients fresh from Sweet Digz Farm.