For over twenty years, Chef Rich Mead has been buying his produce direct from his farmer friends at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. When we set out to host the inaugural Green Feast, 10 years ago, we knew Rich was the man who understood the importance of the farm-to-table movement. Chef Rich’s appreciation for farmers and farming runs deep; he believes in seeing, tasting and touching the soil from which his ingredients come from. Rich works with local ecosystems and microclimates to highlight each season, giving his diners the opportunity to vote with their fork for an ecologically-sound food future. Rich has since built an institute in Newport Beach, first with Sage and its two treasured locations. And, now, with Farmhouse at Roger’s Gardens. He has realized his vision of farm cuisine in a garden setting. Since opening in 2016, Rich has already received the highly coveted “Best Chef” Golden Foodie Award, which is voted on by his fellow chefs.
You have been with us since the first Green Feast, what does it mean to you to be back on the farm, helping us celebrate our 10th Green Feast?
When Evan asked me to help with the first Green Feast it was a chance to help someone who had an idea that I believed in by doing something that I was able to do– cook. I looked around and grabbed as many friends as I could, Paddy Glennon, Abe from Bluefin and a lot of volunteers showed up to execute that farm dinner. Over the years, even more, people have joined us including chefs like John Sedlar and Paul Buchanan and even my restaurant staff, but Paddy was the one that I will never forget calling on for the first ever Green Feast.
What is the most significant change you’ve noticed over the past 10 years in your industry and how has that shifted how you approach your farm-to-fork philosophy?
In the beginning, it wasn’t easy to get people to help with these farm dinners, not everyone had the time and maybe people didn’t understand what it stood for. I could always count on Paddy Glennon and our farmer friends, Peter Schaner, Alex Weiser, Romeo Coleman to name a few, to support. Our core group grew and throughout the years it has been so much fun to see the growth of The Ecology Center and the embrace of our community. Over the years it has become easier to ask people to join in and spread the word about The Ecology Center, The Community Table Account and making people aware of the environment and the world they live in.
Of the 10 Community Table Accord principles, which did you select to represent your dishes at the 10th Green Feast? Why does this principle resonate so strongly with you?
It would be great if I could use all 10 Community Table Accord principles in my business and at Farmhouse. We are close, but running a successful business comes with different factors. I always take into consideration, needing to grow while still having a voice and an opportunity to more thoroughly follow these principles.
If more people could be inspired to follow this principle, how would that influence the future of how we prepare, source, and enjoy food?
When I opened Sage in 1997 I wanted to work with farmers, I wanted to have a chance to feed as many people as possible, but I wanted to feed them good, local food. I wanted to that show them how wonderful local food is and I wanted to put it in reach. However, it was more expensive to buy this way, and it was especially hard as a small restaurant to find the customers who appreciated what we were trying to provide. It was even a challenge to find a staff that would embrace what we stood for. It is a lot of work cleaning vegetables, breaking down a pig or a lamb and then cooking and serving, paying rent and payroll. Vegetables weren’t viewed as they are today. People are really embracing them now and because of that prices are more reasonable, produce suppliers and markets are now buying from the same farmers we have worked with for years and this demand has enabled farmers to follow their beliefs and help increase a demand for this type of need. Local and organic produce is still priced higher than wholesale produce but the offering and the quality have become better and more widely available. The same can be said about animal proteins. People are now sourcing differently and with that, the market has been changed for the better. More humanely and raised product, be it beef, pork lamb or seafood is now available at better prices because it’s in higher demand. It’s still is expensive to offer beautiful chicken from Autonomy Farms and fish from local fisherman like Ryan Trolli of Harbor Fish Company, but now I have a customer base that appreciates it and will pay a little more for such a beautiful, locally sourced product. Portions can be a little smaller and people realize eating till you pop isn’t necessarily the way to a better life, okay maybe once in a while. Everything isn’t necessarily certified organic because for some small producers there is a monetary price that is too much, but the farmers we work with follow sustainable practices, they rotate crops with the seasons and with the integrity of keeping their soil healthy. They realize the land is what makes their living and their children eat the food they grow.
The Santa Monica Farmers Market is a source of inspiration for you – what advice would you have to people as the approach farmers markets in their own communities?
A trip to the farmers market can be relaxing, it can be informative and educational. For me, it’s always inspirational and its always fun to talk to people who have embraced their own trips to the market. In some cases, it might be a farmers market trip or a meal they ate somewhere that helped them open up to try something they’ve never tried befor.. Sometimes it’s not necessarily changing how people eat but thinking about what they are feeding their children that makes all the difference in the world.
When you sat down with The Ecology Center to create the Community Table Accord, what was your hope for people to understand when reading these 10 principles?
It is important that we realize that what we do now will impact the future and the generations to come. I am really lucky to have people who have worked with and supported our ideas for almost 20 years. I have people in the front of the house as well as the kitchen who have worked with me through all of our restaurants and helped shape a philosophy on food and service which has been embraced by my current staff and restaurant. I look forward to Green Feast as a chance to get together with a bunch of friends, cook and celebrate The Ecology Center and the people who have helped it become what it is today. As for what has happened and is happening in the food world today it has allowed me to continue moving forward and pushing the beliefs I supported when Evan first approached me about helping with the first Green Feast.
Photos from Rich Meads 2015 Community Table Dinner