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An Interview with Stu Stein
featured chefs the peerless restaurantstu stein interview

Stu Stein & Mary Hinds have managed to achieve great success incorporating the use of sustainable foods at The Peerless Restaurant . Why did they choose to use sustainably produced products and how did they achieve such success? Chef and co-owner Stu Stein explains. But first of all let us define the term sustainable;

Sustainable agriculture refers to an agricultural production and distribution system that:

•Achieves the integration of natural biological cycles and controls.
• Protects and renews soil fertility and the natural resource base.
•Optimizes the management and use of on-farm resources.
•Reduces the use of nonrenewable resources and purchased production inputs.
•Provides an adequate and dependable farm income.
•Promotes opportunity in family farming and farm communities, and minimizes adverse impacts on health, safety, wildlife, water quality and the environment......

The Peerless Restaurant has managed to achieve great success incorporating the use of sustainable foods. Why and how did they achieve this, chef and co-owner Stu Stien explains.

Why did you choose to base your menu around sustainable foods?
This has been an evolving process that has gained importance though out my career. I first became aware of the sustainable movement when I was working in the Midwest. Then when I worked in Kansas it really started to influence my cooking. The people that I worked for had plenty of connections within the local farming community, so the food that people eat at The Peerless Restaurant really stems from that. Of course Alice Waters of Chez Panisee has influenced and inspired all of us. She is the God Mother of the movement - she proved that you operate a kitchen basing your style on using local seasonal foods and stay in business.

Does the general public understand the concept and importance of your drive towards using sustainable and organically grown products. How do you educate and get them to see the point?
The wait staff explain our philosophies to the guests when presenting them with the menu - though in the Pacific Northwest this food practice is quite widely understood. Additionally we are some what of a destination restaurant for the area, so much of our clientele understand, respect and dine at our restaurant because of our food and our philosophy. Ashland and the surrounding areas attracts a good amount of tourists - this segment of our business can be a little more of a challenge. This where our wait staff help the cause tremendously. They are well versed in the concept of our food and can skillfully educate guests.

How do you promote the use of sustainable foods on your menu?
We blend the names of producers and farmers on the menus. Most importantly the wait staff are my mouth piece talking to our guests and explain what is being used and where it came from. The tasting menu is another good tool as it is not a written menu and each course is explained as it is put down.

Do you spend much time exploring what is available? Have purveyors been able to provide documentation to prove that their products are what they say they are (sustainable or organically produced)?
A lot of time has been spent looking for the right people to buy from - and we are still working on it. It takes a good couple of years to set up a network of suppliers. The organic farmers that I buy from are members of organic associations. I do visit many of the farms that I buy from - more for the reason that I enjoy seeing their farms than checking up on them. Many of the meat and game people that I buy from are from a little further a field so I ask for documentation from them.

What is more important to you - to use organic products or locally produced/harvested? Local is paramount. I would much rather support someone who is local. Many purveyors find it difficult to be completely organic. For them it is just as much work to find organic feed and such like as it is for us to find good people to buy from. This idea is also directed towards beverages. We feature wines by the glass from some of the local boutique wineries who produce only a couple of hundred cases of wine a year.

With regards to our coffee it is not organic but it is shade grown. Here is where we have a price point issue. Our guests are quite comfortable with eating a smaller piece of meat because it has been raised with out the use of growth stimulants and other drugs. They understand that that type of product is expensive. But understandable when it comes to a simple product like coffee - they want a decent size cup.

What do you do out side of your restaurant to promote the sustainable movement?
I give demonstrations at our local farmers market and cooking schools. Additionally we work with the Chef's Collaborative and other organizations to help spread the word.

Can you offer a word of advice to a chef who wants to set up their own restaurant basing their menu around sustainable foods?

First, talk to purveyors - developed relationships with the people who are growing, farming, raising, etc.... the actual product. These are the people you will be driving your menu and cuisine.

Second, think outside of the box and be open to the moment. A particular group of products may be at its best right now - maybe you never thought about that particular combination - but let the pure flavors of the products speak for themselves. In this type of cuisine, it is not about "how tall can I make the plate" but "what tastes the best" and "what compliments each other the best".

Third, be prepared to be frustrated. You will not always find the purveyors that think like you do. You may not always be able to get what you want. Be patient but be true to your convictions. (Stu's food philosophy)

The Peerless Restaurant - 243 Fourth Street Ashland, Or 97520.
Telephone 541-488-6067
Click here for information and reservations

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