2011 Local Heroes
Last fall, we asked readers to vote for the farm, restaurant, food artisan, and non-profit organization who, they felt, are making a major contribution to our local food commuity. Hundreds of votes were cast for numerous businesses, farms and organizations. Here we proudly present the winners and salute their outstanding achievements.
Local Hero: Chef/Restaurant
If you think of a hero as one who protects or safeguards, Bruce Ucan is certainly a hero to local farmers — from whom he buys prodigiously — and local consumers, who rarely have the luxury of choice when searching a restaurant menu for local food. There’s guacamole, of course. Ucan is Mayan and his restaurant is the Mayan Café. All the food on the menu is inspired by his background. So there is seafood and citrus and prickly pear cactus.
But his background is also one of shopping locally, eating locally, traveling to the market with this mother to buy what the day had to offer. So if his fabulous salbutes are served with black bean and goat cheese filling, it is Indiana goat cheese; if he’s making cochinita pibil, the slow-roasted pork will come from shoulders he purchased at the farmers’ market. The white bean and chicken chili is made with local chicken. On and on ... eggs, honey, beef, cheese, rabbit, vegetables ... and he’s one of few area chefs making a hamburger with local ground beef. Even in the depth of winter, Ucan makes serving vegetables look easy. Tamales come with spaghetti squash, grass-fed rib eye steak comes with mashed sweet potatoes, salad greens and mushrooms are raised indoors in Kentucky and Southern Indiana.
The tok-sel served at Mayan Café should be enough to earn Ucan a “hero” moniker, for no other reason, perhaps, than it has persuaded hundreds, maybe thousands, to eat their lima beans. How anyone can make a dish so delicious from a product so dreaded is a mystery to many, and simplicity itself. Browned quickly in a pan over very high heat, the limas are lightly seasoned with green onions, parsley, pumpkin seed and a dash of sesame oil. Ucan gives out the recipe often and freely (find it at themayancafe.com/2011/01/25/tok-sellima-beans-recipe) but many still travel to the restaurant to eat them. The lima beans are not local, but they are delicious proof that food that tastes fabulous can also be good for you.
As consumers motivated by economic or environmental or health concerns increasingly search local menus for food raised in Kentucky and Southern Indiana, chefs are beginning to understand the virtue of putting local food on their menus. Ucan always has. It simply tastes the best.
813 E. Market St.
Local Hero: Farmer
Runaway winner of the Farmer category is locavore pioneer Ivor Chodkowski of Field Day Family Farm. A fixture at the Bardstown Road Farmers’ Market, Ivor farms near Oxmoor golf course on one of Louisville’s largest undeveloped parcels of urban land.
Ivor’s footprint, however, goes far beyond farming. He was one of four farmers who started Grasshoppers Distribution, Louisville’s largest food subscription service connecting local farmers with consumers and restaurants. Close to his heart is the ongoing education and apprenticeship program, the Food Literacy Project, located on his farm where young people from elementary school to young adults experience the cycle of seed-to-produce firsthand.
And now, the Louisville community is eagerly awaiting the opening of Harvest, a new restaurant Ivor and partners will open later this year on East Market Street. It goes without saying the menu will focus on items using local produce and meats.
Local Hero: Food Artisan
The winner of the Food Artisan category of our Local Hero Awards, Wiltshire Pantry has provided our community with inspired premium catering since 1989. Owner Susan Hershberg oversees a complete array of catering services creating menus unique to each occasion from wedding receptions to corporate retreats and even intimate in-home dinner parties.
The chefs of Wiltshire Pantry often prepare custom menus that celebrate local foods including Ashbourne Farms grass-fed beef, SchachtFarms Heritage poultry and Finchville Farms country ham, among others. Taste samples by visiting Susan’s restaurant Wiltshire On Market any Thursday through Saturday evening: 636 E. Market, reservations at 589-5224.
Contact Susan at Wiltshire Pantry by calling 581-8560 or visiting www.wiltshirepantry.com.
Local Hero: Non-profit
Not surprisingly, the winner of the Nonprofit category is Dare to Care, the organization whose 3,000 volunteers procured and delivered 14 million pounds of food in 2010 to those in our community in need. Included in that total was 4 million pounds of fresh produce. The food is distributed through a network of over 300 independent food pantries, emergency kitchens and shelters. Over 192,000 people received emergency food assistance, of which over 40,000 were children.
Dare to Care Food Bank was founded in 1971, when a stunned Louisville community was confronted with the horrifying news that right in their own city, on Thanksgiving Day, a 9-year-old boy had died of starvation. The name Dare to Care became the rallying cry of people throughout the area as they joined together to attack the very real problem of hunger in many of their neighborhoods.