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Digging in the DZ Farm Dirt

October 16, 2014

Recently I was sent a press release about a new enterprise called the DZ Farm. It’s the newest venture from DZ Restaurants, the company that owns and operates Chianti Il Ristorante, Boca Bistro, Forno Bistro and Pasta Pane.

Anyhow, they were having a ribbon cutting ceremony followed by a big party to celebrate the farm’s official grand opening. And I was suspicious.

After reading some of the copy about DZ Farm on the website, I had my doubts about the integrity of this project. How much of this was about cooking with local seasonal produce, and how much of this was about saying the restaurants were doing such things?

To make a long story short, I was invited to spend some time talking with the company’s executive chefs at the farm, and judge for myself.

Here’s the thing. This is indeed an exciting project, and I truly believe that Roslyn and David Zecchini have their hearts in the right place. Calling it a farm is a bit of a stretch though. The DZ Farmhouse rings a bit truer, but I understand the impulse.

The pair bought an incredible property. It’s a 65 acre estate with woods, a beaver pond, and a modern replica of an 1872 American Colonial Saltbox house. The house is beautiful. It is set up for corporate retreats (for up to 20 people) and weddings (for up to 150), but soon there will be a larger demonstration kitchen which will host hands-on cooking classes too.

Then there is the garden.

It’s a large garden, to be sure. But it resembles a garden more than a farm. It lies between the house and the sprawling back lawn, so any expansion of the garden will encroach on the clearing where weddings will invariably be held during the season. It’s a gorgeous setting. You can see pictures from the party here.

That said, in its first year the garden yielded thousands of pounds of produce which included hundreds of pounds of tomatoes. This inaugural season focused mostly on summer produce like peppers, squash and cucumbers. Next year the plantings will include more fall vegetables.

Everyone agrees that chef Marquis Snyder of Boca Bistro is the one who spends the most time in the garden. He’d love to help it grow to sustain his involvement full time. The potential seems to be there. Marquis explained that while the garden isn’t certified organic, he doesn’t use any pesticides, nor does he add any synthetic fertilizer. When pests started munching on leaves, those leaves got torn off. The soil received its nutrients from rich dairy manure, and in some beds the soil’s pH was adjusted with the use of peat moss.

That’s cleaner than organic, but there’s no good label to describe it.

Marquis dreams of keeping bees, and maybe even getting chickens. In his fantasy scenario, he hasn’t ruled out slightly larger farm animals down the road like goats or a pig or two. I hope that one day the agricultural operations of the farmhouse will expand to make this possible.

Now here’s the tricky part. All of this produce gets split between four restaurants.

This past summer most of it was used on the specials menus of the restaurants. Fabrizio Bazzani used some of the heirloom tomatoes for a tomato carpaccio at Chianti Il Ristorante that just flew out the door. Towards the end of the season, he was using DZ Farm tomatoes to make sauces. Other chefs used them as accents, like James Frese of Pasta Pane who made a salad of tomatoes and cucumbers to top his halibut.

Even though all produce from DZ Farm was labeled on the specials menu, at the party I spoke with several regular patrons of the restaurant group, and none of them could recall seeing these locally grown vegetables this past summer. My hypothesis is that there just wasn’t enough of them to break through all the clutter.

There will be more next year.

In fact, four new beds are being built and each restaurant will get its own dedicated plot for one or two specialty vegetables. Since planting season is still far away, the chefs are still pondering their options. Chef Ryan McCormick of Forno Bistro is leaning towards some heirloom eggplants. Separately, Roslyn is also planning to put in some berries on the edge of the woodlands.

Speaking of the woods, they are extensive. Should the farm need to expand, it’s likely some more land will be cleared. But for the time being there is some good foraging to be done among the trees and Fabrizio has a sous chef who was able to bring in some chanterelles from the wilds of the farm.

But as the garden grows, it’s not just going to feed the restaurants. The restaurants are also going to be feeding the garden. Say hello to composting. Kitchen scraps, mostly vegetable peels and stems, will be collected and mixed with broken down cardboard boxes. It’s a very clever way of reducing waste. However before it can be implemented, the kitchen staffs need to be trained, and DZ Restaurants needs to find a good way to transport this messy but sustainable stuff.

It was clear from talking with the chefs that some have a lot of passion for this project, while others are willing to go along for the ride. Maybe as this project evolves, one or two restaurants will become more focused on DZ Farm produce than the others, but it remains to be seen.

For last Sunday’s party Boca Bistro brought in Wannabe Farm rabbit for the paella, and Pasta Pane had Kilcoyne Farms beef. Fabrizio had a porchetta cooking over coals that was rolled from a Kilcoyne hog. DZ Farm’s peppers found their way into the braised lentils that accompanied the porchetta.

Ashley Dingeman, aka the Saratoga Food Fanatic, wrote more about the food that was served at the event. And while I did get to chat with Mayor Joanne Yepsen for a while, I was more excited to see Steve Wold of Larry’s Foreign Auto and to meet Robin Dalton of The Saratoga Social (and apparently avid reader of the FLB).

My favorite bites came from Boca Bistro. Roslyn’s roast beet topped with monte enebro, herbed blueberry compote, and crushed marcona almonds was a tour de force of contrasting flavors and textures. And those tender bites of rabbit, perfumed with saffron, and nestled in creamy bomba rice were delicious. Far too many attendees made s’mores over the campfire instead of sampling Chianti’s Focaccia all’uva, which involved a cabernet grape sauce drizzled over sweet focaccia. Their loss.

Overall, the DZ Farm feels like a very smart move with a lot of potential. Will the potential be realized? It’s too early to tell. But I’ve got high expectations for this project, and I plan to keep an eye on its progress.

 

 

 

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 16, 2014 11:12 am

    More about the farm and future plans (shameless self plug): http://www.timesunion.com/living/article/Another-stop-on-food-chain-5562255.php

    Glad you got to go and check it out for yourself.

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