Nick Balla grew up in the rural Midwest, a far cry from the bustling urban stretch his restaurant Bar Tartine now calls home. When it came to their food, Balla’s family lived by a zero-waste philosophy. If they couldn’t eat something immediately, they would preserve it to eat in the future. Years later, wildly successful and hyper-seasonal Bar Tartine shares this philosophy with the Balla family.
When Nick and his partner Cortney Burns started Bar Tartine, they were clear in their commitment to local and seasonal, even encouraging their suppliers to pursue the same. The restaurant developed an exclusive relationship with Full Table Farm in Yountville, located just 40 miles north of San Francisco. Nick and Cortney met Full Table farmers Juston and Mindy at an event a few years ago, being immediately drawn to their produce. After a meeting on the farm, both farmers and chefs were convinced that a unique and important partnership was blossoming.
The exclusive relationship between Bar Tartine and Full Table Farm guarantees the farmers a reliable source of income -- one not subject to the whims of chefs, uncertain markets, or even the weather. Whatever Juston and Mindy grow, Nick and Cortney use. Along with having a deeper connection to their ingredients, the relationship also encourages the chefs to constantly rethink and retool their menu. Fresh peppers are dried and milled into paprika –- a popular spice on their menu. “Ugly” produce is transformed into jams, sauces, and other products reminiscent of the canning of Nick’s youth. At the table, Nick and Cortney’s approach is best represented by the iconic Bar Tartine sprouted croquette dish. Composed of whatever sprouted legumes are on hand, the buttermilk byproduct of churning their own butter, and bread scraps, the ingredients for this customer favorite could just as easily be found in the food waste bin in a different kitchen.
Nick and Cortney's zero-waste philosophy extends beyond the produce they source for their kitchen. A meat order for Bar Tartine kitchen usually begins with a conversation with Patricia of Happy Hens Farm. Patricia updates the chefs on what meat is available while the chefs prepare for whatever arrives the next day. As Nick puts it, “We should all be constantly available to think outside the box and adapt the way we think about our relationship with growers. How do we evolve our notion of what we need versus what we want?” To this end, Nick and Cortney are actively involved in developing a sustainable distribution system for small producers, which includes utilizing reusable produce containers to cut down on packaging costs.
Both Nick and Cortney understand that meaningful collaborations move us all closer toward a resilient and interdependent food system. Sharing a passion for the livelihood of small farmers, working with Kitchen Table Advisors was a natural fit for the chefs. Next week during KTA's Grazing at the Kitchen Table, Nick and Cortney look forward to bringing their love of local and seasonal to the community meal.
Grazing at the Kitchen Table takes place from 6.30pm to 9.30pm on Thursday, September 22, 2016 at Dogpatch WineWorks in San Francisco. Don't wait to reserve your seat! Follow #GrazeAndGive2016 for updates.
Photos courtesy of Bar Tartine.