In mid-October, Union at the Press Hotel in Portland cooked a farm-to-table dinner at Wolfe’s Neck Farm, one of a series of beautiful benefit dinners the Freeport nonprofit holds every summer. After the incredibly delicious meal, made using many ingredients culled from just steps away from the barn where we were seated, Union chef Josh Berry got up to tell diners why he does not, in fact, believe in “farm-to-table.” We called him up to ask him to expand on those ideas. Here’s what he said in his own (lightly edited) words:

WE’RE IN MAINE. Since the dawn of Maine cuisine, we’re so close to our farmers. When you think of San Francisco, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, or any city – that’s where they had to source out these great farms. Those cities are sourcing out because they need to. But I have these guys right down the road from us. This is easy for us. Using the term farm-to-table for us… it’s like plastic. It’s not genuine. Of course we all buy local food!

The cuisine we do in Union, I like to call “enhanced local.” Our menu is very worldly, but like that chicken we served at Wolfe’s Neck? Local chicken. Local Swiss chard. The peppers are local. Everything is local. But we seasoned it with ras el hanout, which is a Moroccan spice. Now I’m adding that to my local products and just enhancing them with a different way of thinking.

When the farmers bring the food to us, they’ve got dirt on their hands, it’s so real. It’s that close. We have this bounty of not just farmers but also fishmongers right at our fingertips. It is a special thing, and we shouldn’t label it farm-to-table. That’s a word that’s used so frequently now. It’s so clichéd. To us, it’s just our way of life. It’s what we do.

When you have chain restaurants using it – Chipotle using this phrase. These larger conglomerate companies say, “How do we do that on a mass scale? How can we sell it to the masses?” It’s because it’s so diluted now that it has lost its meaning. Whatever phrase we are going to use, whatever is going to come, whatever is the next trendy thing, Maine doesn’t have to use it. We just have to build a relationship with our farmers instead of clutching onto a mainstream phrase.” o

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