Letter from the Editor: Telling Stories
Upgrading to the squash blossom porridge was one of the best decisions of my life. A waiter placed a wide-rimmed white bowl with dandelion-yellow soup before me, as another server opened a small wooden box. He allowed me a quick glimpse of the black Australian truffles inside before selecting one and covering my entire porridge with fresh shavings of the fungus. Whoa.
It was one of those dining moments that, no matter how gimmicky it may seem later, makes the meal that much more memorable. Not that I was going to have any trouble recalling this evening-I was dining at the lauded French Laundry in Yountville, California. (To this day, I've no clue how I lucked into reservations.)
When my husband leaned across the table halfway through the meal and asked if I spotted anyone famous, I looked to my left and saw chef Thomas Keller standing there. Double whoa.
One of the moments from that magical evening that still sticks with me today had nothing to do with eating. Rather, it's what our waiter gave us to take home. On our way out, he handed over a dark blue folder with the outline of the restaurant's signature clothespin embossed on the front. Inside was a copy of the evening's menu signed by the chef and a thick, beautifully designed and photographed booklet with stories about their farmers and purveyors.
Here was a restaurant that so believes in the people from whom they source and the quality of their products that they took the time and money to write a book about them, like a proud parent touting the accomplishments of their children.
That menu has since been framed and now proudly hangs in my dining room. As for the booklet, it's still in that blue folder, tucked away in my desk. I can't bring myself to throw it away.
I pulled it out the other day as I was writing this issue's cover story on Shagbark Seed & Mill ("With the Grain" on page 76). Why? Because of the enthusiasm I received when I spoke with area chefs who source organic beans and heirloom grain products from this small Athens mill. They spoke highly of mill owners Brandon Jaeger and Michelle Ajamian and credited them with changing not just the way we look at staple foods, but the world itself. Chef Tom Smith at The Worthington Inn went so far as to say his pork tacos (the dish featured on this issue's cover) weren't complete without Shagbark's heirloom corn tortillas.
After spending time with Brandon and Michelle this summer, I understood the gushing from local chefs. With no business experience, these two figured out how to open and run a successful organic mill. And that's not to mention their products, which are some of the best grains and beans around (I'm personally a sucker for their corn crackers).
We give a lot of praise to the chefs who craft delicious dishes, but we don't always take the time to share the stories of the farmers and purveyors who sacrifice to bring us quality products in the first place. I'm so happy to share their story here.
I'd love to hear what you think of the magazine! Email me feedback on what you love and what you think we could do better at bstallings@