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Chefs utilize local ingredients

BY JENNIFER HOCH | APRIL 24, 2014 5:00 AM

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“As local as possible, whenever feasible” is the motto for many chefs this year’s Iowa City Eat Drink Local Week, a celebration of local products and the Iowa suppliers who make it possible. While the menus at the 30 participating establishments vary, one thing is for sure: They’re local and fresh.

Iowa City Eat Drink Local Week began Monday, and it will continue through April 27. The event will take place at a number of Iowa City establishments, and it will offer, for the most part, three-course prix fixe dinners for $25 or less, three-course prix fixe lunches for $12 or less, and specials on local beers and cocktails made with Iowa spirits, as well as specials on desserts and coffee drinks made with Iowa ingredients.

On Friday, special activities will take place at the Robert A. Lee Recreation Center, 220 S. Gilbert St., for kids whose parents participate in the event. On  April 27, door prize drawings will be offered at Clinton Street Social Club, 18 ½ S. Clinton St.

Along with the special events, several local establishments, as well as the Downtown District, encourage festival guests to make their participation known through social media by using the hashtag #EDLWeek on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foodspotting, and Google+.

Owner and chef of the Motley Cow Café, 160 N. Linn St., David Wieseneck said his philosophy is to use mostly local products because of animal welfare as well as product knowledge. Buying locally allows access to a variety of less common herbs and produce, he said.

Wieseneck said approximately 98 percent of the café’s meats and 70 percent of its produce is obtained in the state.

“We do our best to really feed as many local ingredients into our menu, because [local ingredients] always provide a better product,” he said. “We focus on the freshness and like to put our money toward the local community to support the agriculture economy of Iowa.”

The prix fixe menu at the Motley Cow includes an arugula, sunflower sprouts, & crème fraiche salad along with slow roasted pork shoulder, rainbow chard, parsnips, green garlic, poached egg, and whiskey crème brûlée. The ingredients on the menu are sourced locally, such as the slow-roasted pork shoulder, which is obtained from Hinterland Farm, located 25 miles from of Iowa City, in Nichols.

Owner Scott Hintermeister said the Motley Cow has supported both his family and his business.

“[Buying locally] is important because it provides consumers with the information about where their product is coming from,” he said. “They know exactly about the treatment of the animals, the environment that they’re raised in, and that they’re being raised in a humane manner; of course, it helps with product taste, too.”

Kurt Friese, the event coordinator and owner of Devotay, said he has dedicated most of his career to focusing on local foods and emphasizing that “fresh taste is the best taste.”

“The week is a way to build community,” he said. “To discover foods they haven’t tried before, to support their favorites all the while supporting the local providers.”

Devotay executive chef Dan Knowles, who has been at the establishment for eight years, said the prix fixe menu for the event focuses on locally sourced mushrooms and proteins. The better the environment the product comes from, the better the taste, he said, and ingredients play a key component in Devotay’s menu, which includes lamb and pork obtained from Pavelka’s Point Meats.

“It’s not only knowing where the product is coming from but having a relationship with the person it’s coming from,” Knowles said. “Being able to shake her hand and know who you’re buying from personally.”

Co-owner of Pavelka’s Point Meats Lois Pavelka has been a meat distributor in Mount Vernon, Iowa, for nine years. She said that before speaking to The Daily Iowan, her hands were covered in lamb manure, then noted that her relationship with the buyer is as important.

Most of the chefs she sells to in Iowa City have established this relationship by visiting her farm. She said it’s important for her to create a partnership so she knows who they are, what they like, and of course, how they like their meat cut.

“Our meat has traveled less than meat acquired out of state; 70 miles to be processed and 70 miles back … and then to Iowa City,” Pavelka said. “[Local buyers] know what we use, our animal-care practices and how we raise our livestock. Iowa City is unique in the sense that there are so many privately owned establishments … and it seems to be growing. Hopefully, I can keep up.”

Brix Cheese Shop and Wine Bar will feature local drinks and food, including Frisian Farms Sneek two-year-aged Gouda and acorn-fed spallacia, two specialty items brought in for the event. The acorn-fed spallacia comes from La Quercia in Norwalk, Iowa, and all of the meats come from within 200 miles of the facility.

Brix owner Nick Craig said the relationship he has with local providers is important because they can keep him up to date with new products that he can bring to the restaurant.

“Everyone likes a little taste of home,” he said. “While there are world-famous cheeses, there are world-class cheeses from just down the road.”


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