Four Northern Michigan restaurants, located in Benzie County, signed onto the Green Plate Challenge in July, agreeing to make a "green plate special" every day that is 90% locally sourced food that is grown and processed no more than a 100 miles from the restaurant. The Cabbage Shed, Betsie Bay Inn, Coho Cafe, and Tali Bistro and Bar will all be serving up green plate specials through the remainder of the summer.
Wild Leek Productions, the promoter of the Green Plate Challenge, recruited the four restaurants and has engaged many local farmers to support the participating chefs. In addition, Wild Leek Productions is encouraging the community to support the challenge. This support is demonstrated each time a community member orders the “Green Plate” at one of the participating restaurants.
Not only is it fun to see the creative ways the chefs prepare the freshly harvested and nutritious foods, but it can be even more fun to follow up by rating them too. Those who order the Green Plate are encouraged to rate the plate on a scale from 1-5 for its originality, presentation and taste. The Green Plate can be rated online at Wildleek.org. The website also contains short demonstration videos of the participating chefs preparing their unique “Green Plates”, as well as more information about local food and culture.
This summer is the first season of the Green Plate Challenge for both Wild Leek and the participating restaurants. While the four restaurants and Wild Leek Productions go through the motions this first season, all parties are looking forward to learning from the process, so that future challenges will be much improved. This trial run will help all involved to better understand and appreciate the true challenges of preparing and promoting this locally grown initiative. So far, many green plates have received outstanding scores and the community support for the challenge is growing each and every week. The Green Plate Challenge ends the last day of summer, September 22nd . On that date Wild Leek Productions will award the restaurant(s) who had the highest score in each of the three categories.
As part of the marketing and promotion campaign, Wild Leek Productions has been operating a food booth at both the Elberta and Frankfort farmer’s markets promoting the restaurants and their green plates. Last week, it served Eggs Benedict and the week before it served Smoked Lake Trout and Caesar Salad with Dried Cherries. All of the ingredients were purchased from the farmers at the market, of course. Farms that have contributed to green plates prepared by the participating restaurants and/or green plates prepared Wild Leek Productions at the farmers markets are: Loving Dove Farm, Gallagher’s Centennial, The May Farm, Spring Hollow Dairy, Wallin Emu Ranch,Ware Farm, Brown’s Orchard, Northstar Organics and many, many more.
The booth that Wild Leek occupies is shared with the newly formed Northern Michigan Culinary Arts Community. Farmers market shoppers are also encouraged to join the culinary arts community, so that they can be actively involved in our region’s local food economy and culture. Membership to the culinary arts community is free of charge, however, all members must love to eat. Northern Michigan Culinary Arts Community members are awarded with a 10% discount on all green plates at participating restaurants.
One of the benefits of the Green Plate Challenge is improving the culinary skills of those who have taken the challenge. Presenting a green plate consistently throughout the season is a very big challenge in itself. Add to that the pressure of competition and it becomes even more demanding. It aims to inspire participating chefs to dig deep into their culinary bag of tricks to present something truly special and delicious.
The Challenge is also designed to help local restaurants develop long lasting and sustainable relationships with farmers in their region that may not otherwise have ever been formed. Doing so, will strengthen local agriculture and further develop our local food economy. Local food has a lower carbon footprint than most food prepared in our local restaurant industry. It is fresher and has greater nutritional value than food shipped in from far away regions which have no connection to our community. It is a win-win for all of us, resulting in dining experiences that are truly unique to Northern Michigan.
Not only is the Green Plate Challenge being supported by the community, but many well established organizations within our community that have had significant impact on our local food movement are helping Wild Leek Productions with marketing and promotion.. Some have provided “in kind” donations and others have made monetary contributions. They are: Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine, MyNorth.com, The Crystal Lake Catering Co., Cherry Capitol Foods, Oryana Natural Foods Market, City of Frankfort (Community Kitchen), Eco-Building Products, Bayside Printing, Higher Grounds Trading Co., Pleasanton Brick Oven Bakery, Fresh Food Partnership, Still Grinnin’ Kitchen, Northern Michigan Culinary Arts Community, Elberta Farmers Market, Frankfort Farmers Market, Taste The Local Difference, MLUI, and Edible Grande Traverse.