This story originally published at 12thandbroad.com on January 29, 2016. Due to platform migration, stories were not archived. It is my pleasure to share with Corbin In The Dell readers “Shake The Hand That Fed You” stories, here. As always, thanks for giving a damn.
I’ve made my way down I-65 in plenty of time to beat the traffic. It’s a Tuesday evening in Cool Springs, as I sip on my Black Abbey POTUS, an American Porter made with Frothy Monkey coffee. Several couples and a few solo sippers have joined me at the Amerigo Cool Springs bar. We anxiously await this month’s Chef Farm Dinner Series. It was at this dinner series where I first tasted sweet breads and pig tails. It’s where I first met Bill and LeAnn Cherry of Bear Creek Farm in Williamson County. The Cherrys have been farming grass-fed cattle and pastured pigs for nearly a decade.
One of my first “real” dinner dates was at Amerigo on West End. My college graduation dinner was held there. Well, you get the idea.
This classic Italian restaurant has seen Nashville restaurants come and go, but it’s far from sleepy. Amerigo’s Executive Chef, Steven Robilio says, “There’s so much more science than 20 years ago. Cooks and chefs alike have to be more intelligent due to the technology.” Technology isn’t the only thing demanding a chef’s attention. The supply and demand of local food resources have increased drastically.
“It can be a challenge sometimes,” says Robilio,”It’s not as easy as to log into a distributor to get a case of this or that.” The restaurant still relies on large distributors for regional and bulk items, but Robilio says, “If you have the means and staff to do it, it makes sense. You’re helping local businesses.” Official sponsors of Franklin Farmer’s Market, Amerigo’s co-owner, Paul Schramkowski became a board member of the producer-only market three years ago. ”We support the local farmers, because they’re our customers too. It is important for us to give back to those in our local community, and one way of doing that is to buy products from our farmers whenever we can,” says Schramkowski.
“We are fortunate that Paul is so tuned in to the market. Because of our involvement with the market, Paul knows what’s going on. He knows the hardships farmers AND chefs face when trying to source local. This is what it takes,” explains Amerigo’s marketing director, Ali Gensert.
Bear Creek Farm has been sourcing their grass-fed beef and pastured pork to Amerigo for close to five years. They count Robilio as part of the family, as so does Robilio them. “He’s just a real fine man to work with. He understands working with a farmer and gets it,” says Cherry. She explains, “He knows to give a heads up and that we have to plan ahead on what to grow for him. Any farmer working with chefs can appreciate that.”
On any given day, you can expect to see seasonal menu items such as Bear Creek Farms Pulled Pork Pasta, Smoked Salmon Dip featuring Noble Springs Dairy Chevre, and vegetables from Delvin, Bloomsbury, and Rocky Glade Farms.
Come the last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of the month, Chef Steven has the pleasure of introducing his favorite farms and artisans to upwards of 40 diners at each of the Chef Dinner seatings. “I’ll have a rough menu a couple of weeks before the dinner. We’ll know what type of proteins, but everything else is subject to change. The Saturday before, I’ll go to the market and buy whatever they have, “ says Robilio. Gensert plans the Amerigo social media and email campaigns carefully, always noting that the menus are subject to change based upon market availability. “Putting the disclaimer in there shows that Steven is attending the market just days before the dinner. It helps people understand that the food is fresh,” she explains.
“I’ve never worked anywhere that the chef comes out with the beverage director and talks about each course. We do this at our Chef Dinner Series. It helps guests connect with the dish before it ever comes out,” he says. The 32-year old chef studied at the New England Culinary Institute. He has worked in *south Florida, Vermont, California and Memphis. His most recent work has been at the Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, Hog & Hominy and Interim in Memphis. Here at Amerigo, he’s proud to offer such a great deal. At $50 per person, guests enjoy a 5-course meal, plus alcohol pairings picked by General Manger and Beverage Director, Jonathan Parsons.
A restaurant typically likes to keep their food costs well below 30 percent. When sourcing local, Robilio says that he plans for a 10-20% cushion. Gensert explains, “ We aren’t making a lot of money off these dinners. It’s more about awareness.” Robilio adds, “We want to be interactive. We want people to ask questions. It’s been really fun to watch people create friendships over the dinner. It really is a social dinner where they’re learning something.”
This regional chain has achieved a great deal of popularity at the Cool Springs location, but just recently noticed a demand at its flagship restaurant on West End. “Nashville is more of a lunch spot. We don’t have as much the local regular following in Nashville, as we do in Cool Springs,” Gensert says. With more neighborhoods and farms in Williamson County, Gensert and Robilio believe this exemplifies how people more easily relate to farms closer to home.
It’s not always easy to source and cook seasonal, local food. It takes planning, skill and proper execution, but most importantly it takes passion and respect for the land and all of its bounty. For chefs and cooks inspired to support a local food economy, Robilio suggests that adaptability is key. He adds, “There’s a higher cost involved. We charge appropriately. People that eat the seasonal menu are prepared. They know the process and are willing to pay.” Cherry recommends that farmers “do what you say you’re going to do. Chefs are feeding 150-400 people. If you’re going to be there with something, you need to be dependable and have proper infrastructure in place.” They recommend partnering with a well-established farm for delivery, if that is an issue. “Most farmers are more than happy to help a new farmer out. We don’t want to see that stuff go to waste,” she says.
To attend one of the Amerigo Chef Dinner Series, sign up for their newsletter by clicking here or check out their Facebook, Instagram or Twitter announcements for details. Been to a Chef Dinner and love Bear Creek Farms products? You can shake their hand at the Franklin Farmers Market every Saturday morning or buy theirs and other local products at the Herban Market in Franklin, TN.
Two of the most endearing personalities with some of the strongest work ethics are those of farmers and chefs. Over the years, it has been my pleasure to know many of these folks. Whether you attend a Chef Dinner at Amerigo, or any of Nashville’s countless restaurants supporting local farms, make sure to Shake The Hand That Fed You!
Chef Robilio’s Pork Marinade
combine ingredients and whisk. pour over 2 pork loins. cover and refrigerate for up to 12 hours.
1/4 C brown sugar
1/4 C soy sauce
2 T fresh grated ginger
1 T salt
1 T black pepper
1 t red chili flakes