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Restaurants ''getting fresh'' with local farmers | News

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Restaurants ''getting fresh'' with local farmers
News

Tampa, Florida -- The farm to plate movement may be nothing new, but we are seeing more restaurants across Tampa Bay moving away from produce and livestock farmed outside the area and getting back to the local farm.

"It tastes so much better," said John Matthews, "If you haven't had fresh broccoli before, you have no idea what you're missing."

To say Matthews is passionate about locally grown food is an understatement.

His life revolves around it.

He created the Suncoast Food Alliance about four years ago after noticing the struggle for restaurants to get locally grown food on their menus.

While there's no shortage of farms in our area, there is a problem with convenience.

So, he became a "middle man", picking up the harvest from local farms and bringing them directly to the restaurants.

"It's not the easiest way to do things, but it's the best way," said Matthews, "If you're going to put the best quality food out, this is what you need to do."

Matthews spends most of his days on the farms, checking out the latest crops and letting farmers know what the chefs are looking for, for their menus.

At King Family Farm in Bradenton, Matthews was excited to see a new crop of brussel sprouts which are nearly ready for harvest.

"This is beautiful," he smiled. 

Chad Johnson, Executive Chef at SideBern's in South Tampa came to mind.

"He'll be excited to see this," said Matthews.

Chef Johnson was Matthews first client in Tampa. 

There's no paper contracts involved in this relationship.

"This is about integrity and honesty in what we do.  We do it on a hand shake," said Matthews.

And, the Chef says the food simply tastes better.

"Instead of having a brussel sprout that's four days old, we get a brussel sprout the day it's harvested, so it tastes so much better," Chef Johnson told 10 News.

SideBern's, which is part of the Bern's restaurant family, has long been serving locally grown food from Bern's own farm in Tampa.

The Suncoast Food Alliance helps supplement the SideBern's menu.

SideBern's is just the tip of the iceberg that continues to grow.

"Now we have 17 different farmers and 22 different restaurants," said Matthews.

"It's just scratching the surface," said Chef Johnson, "Three years ago, I couldn't get a locally produced chicken, now I have five or six farms I can get chicken from.  Now there's three pork farms where there used to be one."

He added, "The farmers, they have learned to grow for restaurants because obviously restaurants have different demands than your average home consumer.  It's been phenomenal how far they've come in the last couple of years."

A recent delivery from the Suncoast Food Alliance included sturgeon from Mote marine, strawberries and fresh greens.

But, that's just what's on the menu now.

Chef Johnson says he changes the menu to match with what's in season in Tampa Bay.

It's a win-win, he says.

"Obviously...keep the money in the local economy and support local farmers, but at the end of the day, being a chef, the biggest concern is how delicious the food is."

Delicious, he says, is freshly picked.

"As long as the farms keep providing and the restaurants keep supporting them, it's going to keep growing," said the Chef.

On any given day, you'll find Matthews on a farm somewhere in Tampa Bay.

While it's part of his job, he won't call it work.

"How can I call this work??  I love being here," he smiled.

The local food movement also has its own magazine, The Local Dirt, which is dedicated to all things local and sustainable in Tampa.

The first issue was released last month.

Tampa restaurants partnered with the Suncoast Food Alliance: SideBern's, The Refinery, Café Dufrain, Café Hey, Grand Hyatt: Oystercatchers, Armani's and Petey Brown's, Marriot Waterside: Champions Sports Bar, Café Waterside and Terrazzo, Boca Kitchen and Bin 27.

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