Cooking with The Metropolitan Farmer
Hail to the Chefs
Our world is convenient. The way we cook, or don’t cook, is a reflection of how easy it is to get just about anything we want any time of the year.
We buy strawberries in January, not giving much thought to where they’re grown or how. But times are changing. Folks in Missouri are part of a nationwide movement that’s bringing people closer to their food sources. You can see it in every hobby farm and backyard garden. People want to eat local.
Wes Johnson sees the demand for locally grown, organic produce and meat in his position as chef for Metropolitan Grill and Santa Fe Grill in Springfield, Mo. He’s been charged with coordinating the opening of their new restaurant, Metropolitan Farmer, which aims to build relationships between local farmers and customers. Using classic recipes from the 1890s through the 1940s, Metropolitan Farmer will serve contemporary American fare prepared with modern cooking techniques and equipment, but maintaining the traditions of our grandparents and great-grandparents.
What traditions are we talking about? My grandpa popped corn in bacon drippings. Johnson concedes that not everything has to be fried to capture the spirit of early 20th century cooking. He does save fat, however, and uses it in other ways, not necessarily for frying. The idea of not wasting anything is a good one, says Johnson. “Your grandparents didn’t throw anything away.”
Indeed, cooks before us used every part of everything. Johnson himself prepares organ meat for special dinners. Today, people usually ask for chicken breast, but there are seven other cuts on the chicken that taste great.
The new restaurant will venture beyond the beef fillet, rib eye and strip steaks to offer some surprising entrees that incorporate organic when possible, always all-natural, produce and meats from area farmers.
“I like to get to know the farmers,” says Johnson. “I’ll work with those who have the right philosophy and are trying to do it the right way,” whether they’re certified organic or not.
“I’ll work with those who have the right philosophy and are trying to do it the right way.”
Many people in the Ozarks already have a close relationship with growers and know how things are raised, says Johnson. Eating farm to table is trendy, but in the Ozarks, it’s tradition. His last job was in downtown St. Louis, so he immediately noticed how much agriculture there is close to the edges of Springfield. Johnson swears that every person he’s met knows a farmer or is a farmer. That’s making the task of finding partner farms easy.
Local product does not have to travel far to the kitchen of the Metropolitan Farmer. The restaurant will be located at 4139 S. Nature Center Way in Springfield, about 25 feet from the permanent Farmers Market of the Ozarks pavilion. Construction of the four story building is underway with an expected opening this winter. Metropolitan Farmer will be on the first floor and offices on the second and third.
The other half of the Metropolitan Grill culinary team, Pat Duran, is in charge of opening their new bar called Barley, Wheat & Rye Social House, on the fourth floor. The idea is to offer craft whiskey and spirits with smaller-portioned food options. Buying local is still a priority. Look for wines that have been aged in Missouri oak barrels, for example.
Johnson has been reading cookbooks from the turn of the century and finding ways to update the recipes, but not change them too much. They all use familiar ingredients. “There were some loose interpretations of measurements back then,” laughs Johnson. He has to figure out what it means as he plans the menu for Metropolitan Farmer. Offerings will switch every six to eight weeks, allowing for fluctuations in product availability and changing seasons.
What he will do in the winter, he answered with another question: “What did our grandparents do?”
In order to have local product for the winter months, you have to get creative in the fall. Our grandparents made preserves. They dried, canned and froze fresh food, all things Johnson has experience with, and will do for Metropolitan Farmer. “At the end of the season when tomatoes hit rock bottom prices, I’ll buy 300-400 pounds and then oven dry them, pack them in olive oil, and serve them in February.”
Creating a menu using local farmers is more work on the sourcing side because Johnson has to plan ahead based on farmers’ estimates of how much product they can supply. As for cooking, however, Johnson says using fresh, local produce allows him to simplify. “The farmer did most of the work for me,” says Johnson. “He produced a great watermelon. Now, how do I take that and lightly enhance it to create a great product that someone wouldn’t or couldn’t do at home?”
“At the end of the season when tomatoes hit rock bottom prices, I’ll buy 300-400 pounds and then oven dry them, pack them in olive oil, and serve them in February.”
At the same time the menu is taking shape, the restaurant is starting to come together. Patio chairs have been ordered. The interior décor is decided. Expect a casual, rustic atmosphere with a changing menu that reflects the bounty that is grown and raised in the Ozarks. “We’re trying to tie in to local as much as possible,” says Johnson. “It’s more work, but I think the end product makes it worth it.” Great-grandma would be proud.
Favorite recipes from Wes Johnson
The chef says the duck recipe is one of his signature dishes but the pot roast was written with the home cook in mind.
Sorghum Glazed Duck
(Serves Two People)
- 2 boneless duck breasts, skin on
- 1 pint sorghum molasses
- 1 bunch chard
- Juniper berries
- ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground pink peppercorns
For the duck:
Preheat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Score the skin of the duck breasts in a crisscross pattern (½ inch squares.)
Rub the duck breast with the kosher salt and ground peppercorns, let the duck rest for 10 minutes.
Place the duck skin side down in the cast iron skillet until the skin is crisp about, 6 minutes.
Turn the breast over to sear the other side and cook to desired doneness (medium rare is suggested.)
Remove the duck, reserve the drippings, and submerge the duck in the sorghum, let rest for 2 minutes.
Remove and allow excess sorghum to drain off.
Slice and serve atop chard. (recipe follows)
For the chard:
Wash the chard in cold water and shake dry. Remove the leaf from the stem and rough chop. Add to the rendered duck fat in the iron skillet and sauté until tender.
Black Pepper Pot Roast
- 1 (3 to 4-pound) boneless chuck roast
- 1 1/2 tablespoon black pepper, ground
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, large dice
- 2 large carrots, large dice
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 sprigs of thyme
- 1/4 cup red wine
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Season both sides of the roast with salt and pepper.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet and sear the roast on both sides.
Place the meat in a roasting pan.
Add onions, carrots, and garlic to skillet and sauté for 2 minutes.
Add to roasting pan with meat, bay leaves., thyme, wine, and Worcestershire.
Cover roast with foil and bake for 3 to 3 1/2 hours until tender.
Serve with buttermilk biscuits.
- 4 cups flour
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ pound butter, frozen and grated
- 1 egg
- 1 ¼ cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt.
Mix in butter by hand until a corn meal texture is achieved
Fold in egg and buttermilk until just incorporated.
Roll out the dough to about 1 ½ inches thick and cut out biscuits.
Bake on a buttered sheet pan for 8-10 minutes.
Melissa Adler is a contributing writer for GREENE Magazine.She recently accepted the challenge of producing Hail to the Chefs, a regular feature featuring professional chefs and accomplished amateurs with a passion for preparing good and healthy food. Please send suggested subjects to Editor@GREENE Magazine.com.