Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cold Chillin with Chef Cooley @ AMP 150

One of my favorite things in modern life is a gathering/special event, where no one takes any photos, not by a "cameras verboten" kind of thing, but because people are in the moment and that outsider lens even on a phone is just outside enough. I first recognized this as-a-happening several months back at the Ohio City Seed Swap in the Open Yoga Gallery. Even though there was an insane spread of heirlooms and weirdo cultivars and probably at least over a million seeds laid-out over three foldout tables, nobody took a photo.

On 4/20 of 2011, the Cleveland Farmer's Summit commenced at AMP 150 to cold chill with Executive Chef Ellis Cooley. I am fairly certain it was one of those no photos nights. Annabel Khouri of Bay Branch Farm organized the evening and kudos to her. Also in attendance were Turning Point, Erie's Edge, Basil and Beyond, a newcomer named Laura, George Remington Steele, and Sonia DiFiore, who just bought land in Oberlin for her blueberry farm, whose name is unbeknownst to me!

Now, AMP 150 is in a Marriott, basically next to the Cleveland Airport. So despite AMP 150's near-guru status amongst locavores, given these precepts, I had my reservations. Rest assured, by the end of the evening, not only was I blown away by my micro-bok choys in oyster sauce and pork/sweet potato sammich, I also felt that I just hung out with one of the most straight-forward, local foodie chefs in Cleveland. Chef Cooley got a sort-of Miami surfer-dude glow to him that matches his hometown and his stylized blond mohawk. When I called him dude, I don't think he objected too much.

The Cleveland Farmer's Summit had a special room set aside in AMP 150, where we ate and fired off question after question to Chef Cooley. I learned all sorts of things that night. Definite mentionables include AMP 150's quarter acre garden in the would-be-just-mowed grassland at the end of the parking lot and the Marriott's rooftop apiary (that's awesomely insane!).

Though we all flirted with hints of dollar pricing, specifics were kept gray. Instead, we learned of standards in terms of quality with re-assurances towards premium dollar pricing. After quality (which by the way Old Husher's Farm excels in), storage seemed to be the next major concern. I was hoping for the magic bullet when I asked Chef Cooley about basil storage, but all of our heads scratched in unison regarding the basil storage conundrum.

So after quality and then storage, one of the overriding, underlining themes to our dinner chat was "alot of early communication" with an emphasis on "alot." My interpretation of this sentiment correlates perfectly with my "Local Vegetable of the Couple of Days" concept from prior blog. Boiled down, it means that Chef Cooley is willing to work with us, small Cleveland farmers, given that we let him know what we have, when we can have it, and then ultimately deliver it at that time with prior notice. The "at that time" clause is the variable I'm most worried about. Being that I don't own weather (this 2011 Cleveland temperate rain forest spring is a perfect example), I work in ballpark time frames, and not space shuttle countdowns.

For an urban farmer like myself, I think a perfect example of sales synergy would be Old Husher's Walla Walla Onion Rings. Once harvested, the onions will have a curing period, and then have a one month shelf life, which in the case of the Walla Walla is the trade-off for being awesomely sweet. For me with a couple hundred pounds of Wallas, I will need to move those quickly. During the curing, I can give a restaurant a heads-up to approximate weight and delivery time. The restaurant then has time to adjust their menu accordingly and hopefully hype Old Husher's Walla Walla Onion Rings. Given everything Chef Cooley said that evening, this scenario seems win-win.

To conclude just for the record, I want to mention that Old Husher's Farm is the closest urban farm to AMP 150, a mere 20 blocks away. Thanks again to Chef Cooley for cold chillin with us, Cleveland Farmers, and to Annabel Khouri for organizing the event. McDermott, your presence was missed.

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