Flexibility = fresh picks
Published: June 1, 2012
Vermilion’s location in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Alexandria is a stone’s throw from Virginia’s rolling farmland and Chesapeake Bay’s fishing grounds. That’s allowed executive chef Tony Chittum to develop relationships with dozens of farmers and fishermen. “I deal with about 25 different farmers per week, sourcing dairy, meats, oysters and fresh produce,” he notes. “I’m strict about waiting for local ingredients to be ready. So when a farmer calls and says ‘I have my first strawberries or I have sweetbreads from six animals, do you want them?’ I can plan that night’s menu.”
Very limited quantities, like the sweetbreads and season’s first berries, would be destined for a tasting menu at The Farm Table, available two evenings a week for up to six people. But Chittum’s farm-to-fork focus extends to the entire restaurant, and June is an especially bountiful month. On the produce front, berries, rhubarb, fava beans, sugar snaps, baby carrots, squash blossoms, cherry tomatoes and asparagus are in peak supply. On the protein side, soft shells and blue crabs, striped bass, rockfish, fluke and farmed oysters are available from nearby waters. “Spring is also a big time for milk and cheese from our local goat farm,” Chittum adds.
A dish that epitomizes late spring is Vermilion’s Carrot Ginger Soup. “It features a kaleidoscope of baby carrots in purple, yellow, white, orange and green,” says Chittum. “I shave them in thin circles, marinate them in olive oil with a touch of cilantro and layer them in a bowl with a scoop of mascarpone and fresh flower petals. Then the pureed carrot soup is poured in.”
Being flexible allows Chittum to maximize seasonality, but he also does some planning ahead. “My farmers send lists every year and I track what’s available and when I can expect it,” he explains. “I can then reference these lists to plan menus.” The warmer winter and early spring this year threw many crops off by about two weeks, Chittum admits, but his flexibility paid off once again.