SEPTEMBER 2018 – The summer of 2017 saw some pretty fun things going on at Cindy’s. Truth be told, a lot of those fun things were the result of our culinary and bar team planting a garden on the true roof of the Chicago Athletic Association hotel – actually on floor 13.5. That garden, which was built in partnership with Sara Gasbarra of Verdura Gardens, supplied some truly hyper-local ingredients — lettuces, tomatoes, mint, thyme, basil, tarragon and more — for our culinary team to use.
Unfortunately, we’re not able to grow enough to stock our kitchen and bar throughout the season. But fortunately, the wide area around Chicago has wonderful farms and farmers that our chef de cuisine, Keith Potter, works with and has formed deep relationships with many of them.
Between spring and fall (and sometimes into winter), Chef Keith visits many of the farmers at our local farmers markets to pick up super-fresh produce, everything from melons and peppers to beans and corn. And because of those visits — not to mention phone calls, emails, texts, carrier pigeon messaging (OK maybe not that one) — Keith has developed some very close and personal relationships with a number of the farmers.
Two farms — Nichols in Marengo, Ill., and Green Acres in Judson, Ind., — both have been in families for three generations and it seems as this third generation, led by Nick Nichols and Beth Eccles, respectively, truly let their passion for farming shine through. Keith gets melons and peppers from both as well as onions and micro greens. “Beth also has the most beautiful Thai basil I’ve ever seen,” Potter says.
One of the more special relationships is the one Potter has with Dave and Denise Dyrdek, a retired farming couple based in Berrien Springs, Mich. He gets all of his garlic from them and they also sneak him gorgeous tomatoes and tropea onions, a sweet onion with purplish-red skin. “They don’t sell to many restaurants in the city,” he admits. “We’ve developed an incredibly close relationship with them so they take good care of me.” Lucky for all of us, no?
If you’ve ever spent any time at Green City Market, you know Mick Klug Farms always has an array of absolutely gorgeous produce and because of that they’ve developed a reputation over the years as having some of the best fruit around. In 1974, Mick Klug took over the 40-acre farm his parents opened in the 1930s and since then has expanded to 120 acres, growing berries, stonefruit and grapes that you’ve likely enjoyed at Cindy’s. These days, his daughter, Abby, and son-in-law, Mark, joined the farm family and recently merged their farm with her dad’s farm to form a powerhouse operation with corn, tomatoes and beans, too.
“Many other farms grow these items, but Klug has the tastiest, most beautiful fruit in the world,” Potter gushes. “The quality, texture and appearance of Abby and Mark’s produce is unmatched.”
Last, Potter sources sweetcorn and beans from Tracy Vowell at Three Sisters Garden in Kankakee, Ill. He’ll also get pea shoots, micro greens and Tennessee pecans.
“These are the best people in the world, humble gracious and kind,” Potter says lovingly about all the farmers he works with. “They take care of me and I consider them family. I see them far more often than my actual family and I invest in them as they do us.”