The Bay Area's exhaustion with the "farm-to-table" tagline has been well-documented over the years, and now, as the concept has leaked from California cuisine into nationwide fine dining and even, tentatively, fast food, one writer is calling for an all-out moratorium on the term. "It's time to retire 'farm-to-table,'" writes Corby Kummer in a new piece for Vanity Fair. "The term has been drained of any real meaning it may have once had. Chefs themselves are getting sick of it."
As part of the story, Kummer sat down with Cal-cuisine queen Alice Waters, who says that she's "furious" about fast-food chains like McDonald's (with its recent "What We're Made Of" campaign) latching onto the farm-to-table moniker. But while Chez Panisse still name-checks menu contributions that don't come from the restaurant's farmer, Bob Cannard, SF vegetarian icon Greens has all but banned farm shoutouts on its menu, according to chef Annie Somerville. "It's exhausting to look at all that description on a menu," she says. That goes for shouting out farmers' markets, too. "When the public got access to what only we could get before, we lost our bragging rights," fellow SF trailblazer Loretta Keller (Coco500, Seaglass) told Kummer.
So what does the ideal restaurant that's farm-to-table in its ideals, but not its imagery, look like? According to Kummer, it looks a lot like Manresa, which boasts an impressive relationship with Love Apple Farms, minus the boasting. "Even though for chefs, [David Kinch's] name is synonymous with 'Dude's got his own farm,' you don't see or hear anything about it. The restaurant looks California Arts and Crafts with Japanese touches—no scythes or pitchforks on the walls. The solemn servers talk less about the sweet turnips, chrysanthemum, and flowering coriander that are all featured and come from the farm than they do about abalone and black cod and monkfish liver from faraway waters...That's what the future of farm-to-table should be: food that speaks for itself without having to tell you where it comes from."