The Fifty Dollar Tomato
As we grow, learn and adapt one thing that will always be a part of what defines Jake’s is our commitment to our local vendors.
In an attempt to really understand what local means we bought a simple farm a few years ago and our Executive Chef, Josh Taillon, moved in to the small sandstone farmhouse that proudly anchored the seven-acres since the late 1800’s. I wanted to own the farm much more than Chris did, for me it was one more project; a potential wedding venue, distillery, wood shop, cattle farm, vineyard – I had big dreams until I realized that Jake’s was all consuming (and I was approaching 50 and beginning to feel it).
Earlier this week I drove by the farm and noticed Josh in the field. Not an uncommon sight on his rare day off during our busy season. I fought the desire to stop and chat – remembering the importance of time off and giving him time to be alone with his thoughts. The next morning Josh arrived in the kitchen with a well rested smile and lugging a box full of produce that I must have witnessed being harvested the day before.
He was so proud.
The box was full of beautifully dirty potatoes and tomatoes and scallions and peppers. Nothing like what I am used to seeing in the grocery store, I have learned that the irregular shape means much better tasting, and young Peter Martin taught me that it also usually means organically grown. The entire kitchen crew gathered around the prep table as Josh boasted about his bounty, his passion is intoxicating at times and we all soaked it up.
He then shared his recognition of how much work went into growing what was in the box. We had a great discussion about what the real cost of producing the box might be and calculated that each item in the box should sell for perhaps $50 if he were paid a fair wage for his efforts. Instead he was paid the same rate we pay all of our local vendors for his produce and he gladly accepted the payment – feeling rewarded not so much by the small check, but by the pride he felt and the appreciation we all had for his beautiful work.
As we enjoy the bounty of another perfect North Country harvest season, enjoy each tomato, potato, carrot, ear of corn and watermelon. And if you have a chance, thank a farmer for accepting much less than they deserve.
We have always lived life right on the edge of out of control, for some reason we talk about slowing down but as soon as a simpler life appears on the horizon we find another bit of chaos to add and commit to it willingly. Acceptance is the first step towards recovery.
In 1993 Chris and I were a couple of 27-year-old go getters, Chris a full time teacher and I had just opened the third of a series of ventures. We had just closed on the mortgage for our first rental property and moved into our first home. We were expecting our first child and it seemed like the perfect time to get a puppy – and with very little thought we did.
We picked Jake out of a litter of 8 labs behind a garage just outside of Ogdensburg in the late spring. He had the “awe shucks” look on his face that he always seemed to carry; there was no doubt he was the one for us and our family began that day.
Chris and I learned how to care for one more and our life seemed complete, simple almost, being naïve is wonderful when you are 8 months pregnant with your first child. Our son Cody arrived with a flourish and Chris needed some time to recover. Jake was four months old and would have no part of recovery, Chris suggested one evening as she was recovering, and nursing, and not sleeping that perhaps Jake needed to go. I think he understood because he stopped jumping on her when she eased her way into bed that day and life was just a little less crazy so Jake got to stay.
Allie arrived and a special friendship began. Allie’s love of animals and ability to communicate with Jake without words was a special time and our family began to settle into a simpler life. The perfect time for another child and Sophie was born. We were outnumbered as parents and Jake seemed to figure that out – Jake and Cody had a "boy and his dog" bond and Allie and Jake could read each other’s minds. Chris and I (and Jake) spent the next few years settling into what would be our family and life was simple(r).
As our children become independent we like to think that Jake had a bit to do with the wonderful young adults they have become. We also like to think that the qualities that made Jake a special member of our family can be found in your experience when you visit.
Jake greeted us with sincere joy when we arrived. He was kind, accepting and made each of us his priority. His goodbyes were hopeful – hopeful that you would return soon and hopeful that he gave you all that he could.
Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.
If This Stove Could Talk
Our new stove arrived this week, much overdue. Our kitchen team has been challenged a bit for the first two years, accepting the limitations that come with well-worn tools. Finally replacing the old with shiny new, means saying good-bye to a workhorse that has witnessed quite a bit. If the old unit, that gave us all it had could talk, it would probably tell a few good stories.
It would remember our opening in June of 2014, and it would probably laugh quite a bit at our naive optimism. The stove would remember our original chef, Wally Siebel, working 90+ hour weeks doing all he could to keep up with our first few month, while fighting to keep the payroll in check.
It would remember the first health inspection. The inspector we got has a reputation for being challenging, but she was so impressed that we were given the green light that day with a short list if simple improvements.
The stove would remember thousands of entrees being created and warmed and sampled and refined. And the smells, oh the smells; the aroma of garlic and onions and herbs and soups and sauces and desserts. The stove sat close enough to the grill to enjoy the amazing smell of steaks and chicken and pork grilling each day and just close enough to the smoker outside to enjoy our favorite smell of all… our house made bacon.
Most of all, the stove would remember our team. Abbie moving from a high school dishwasher that first summer to a key leader on the grill on our busiest nights. Peggy and Chris and Ryan and Brad and Emery and Jeff, growing as kitchen professionals as they work tirelessly to keep up with the ever changing menu and flavor combinations that are thrown at them – often without a recipe at first.
It would talk about John, our seasoned veteran Chef, with more experience than several others all put together, giving us everything he had each night and taking the occasional rest in his car to build up enough fight to get back on the line for one more dinner rush. And Greg, who joined us with far less experience than the others but a desire to grow and become a professional– and what a professional he has become.
I am sure it would talk most about Josh, our Executive Chef. He arrived with all of the passion and energy he brings every day and he did his best to contain it as he learned about our team. His passion and talent pushed the stove and the staff harder than they had been pushed before, and they rose to the challenge. But the old stove just couldn't keep up as well as the team so, as difficult as it is to say good bye sometimes, the stove knew, as we all did, that we had outgrown it.
We said good-bye with a heavy heart but we also know that the new unit is what we need to do our jobs better. It is tough to enforce expectations if you don’t give your team the tools they need to deliver; we always say.
I am sure that the stove would want to add, as a final good bye, that for sure Good Things Happen in Jake’s Kitchen.
We say it every day.
We scour trade magazines trying to predict what will be hot when the current trendy feature fades away and we spend hours each week looking on line at what’s happening in restaurants and bars in cities with more and bigger and better. We try candied ginger and agave tequila in our Mexican Mule because we want to impress by giving our guests a little more, we chase a better plate for our sushi dish because it’s popular but we are certain we can make it even better if we find just the right presentation. It is frantic, never ending, exciting and challenging and it is rewarding when we hit it just right.
And then comes Thursday afternoon. I have found Thursday afternoons to be my favorite part of each week and I have been trying to figure out exactly why. The trip to Martin’s Farm Stand to pick up all the produce I can fit in the truck (the entire truck - including the passenger seat) comes each Thursday and I find myself returning with a sense of accomplishment that doesn’t come from the discovery of a new menu feature.
I have wondered if it was the back road route I take that includes a weekly inspection of a perfect field of corn with rows that make me wonder how even a machine can get them so straight that makes the trip so rewarding. Perhaps it is that the return to the kitchen each Thursday afternoon signals the beginning of another busy weekend that comes with a little adrenaline rush that we all quietly look forward to. While I enjoy so much about the weekly ritual, this week I think I figured out exactly what makes Thursday special.
If you haven’t been to Martin’s Farm Stand I hope you go this week. Go with a few dollars in your pocket because while they accept debit card, Phillip (the 12 year old little businessman) who is often at the counter struggles a bit to make the draft capture machine work. Go with your eyes wide open; absolutely beautiful vegetables are everywhere. Go with an open mind because Daniel and Mendy aren’t fancy. The walk in cooler is a masterful assembly of window air conditioning units and duct tape but inside are bins and buckets and boxes overflowing with beautiful colors and shapes and flavors.
And listen – really listen to how content Daniel and Mendy and the nine children are with their very simple lives. If you ask, Josh will show you how low the pond is that he loves to fish in, Phillip loves to exchange mind benders just to show you that home schooling really works “Mr. Jake, what color was Washington’s white horse”. I humored him by pulling out my cell phone and asking him to wait while I Googled it and haven’t heard such a hearty laugh in a long time. And if you are really lucky seven year old Deborah will be available to make you a bouquet. For $5 she will wander into the closest patch of flowers and cut you a handful of something pretty special. It might not be FTD worthy but she will tell you the name of each flower and when she planted it. She will give her arrangement a good long look; her eyes and the prideful smile will tell you how proud she is. She will happily take your $5 and tuck it in the pocket of her well-worn dress and skip back to the stand with you asking if you will be back again next week.
I bring the flowers in first when I get back. I put them in a vase and change the water each day. They may not be the prettiest arrangement in the dining room but each day I pause long enough to enjoy Deborah’s Flowers.