Chef insists on only locally-grown food

CLEVELAND – Nearly every chef looks for the freshest ingredients possible when preparing dishes. But few carry the search to the extreme of chef Parker Bosley.

The menu of Bosley’s upscale Cleveland restaurant, Parker’s, exclusively showcases foods produced by Ohio farmers or farmers in nearby Pennsylvania. It changes on a daily basis, reflecting what’s in season.

“The farmers’ products tell us what to cook,” Bosley said. “Our menu is driven by food availability.”

Raised on an Ohio dairy farm, Bosley studied cooking in Paris with renowned chef Michel Pasquet. It was the French chef’s insistence upon fresh, locally grown foods that inspired Bosley to apply the same standards to his own restaurant. Today, Bosley champions the food of the Midwest and has developed his own food production and distribution network by working directly with farmers as much as possible.

“The bounty here is much greater than we think,” Bosley said. From southeastern Ohio’s Appalachian hills to the edge of the Great Plains in western Ohio, Ohio’s climatic and soil diversity is largely untapped, Bosley said. “We really can produce many, many kinds of food here.”

The chef’s philosophies also run toward small-scale and organic production. “Are we really comfortable with cheap food at the expense of natural resources and local, rural economies?” he asks. “We all know in the last few years how food production has changed here in the United States.”

Bosley admits it’s a very idealistic philosophy, but “everyone should be a little more concerned with what’s on that dinner table,” he said. “No one should be a passive diner or cook.”

Passive is the last thing you can call Bosley when it comes to selecting ingredients for his restaurant dishes. He’s currently buying food items directly from approximately 20 farmers in northeastern or northcentral Ohio, in addition to buying direct from growers-only farmers’ markets.

He seeks out local producers and actually visits their farms to see how they’re raising their animals or crops. He suggests certain varieties of produce or certain breeds of livestock, encouraging livestock producers to develop breeding lines of rare animals whenever possible.

“I want to know what kind of chickens you’re raising, what hatchery you go to and what you are feeding,” Bosley said.

The restaurateur and his growers have no written contract, but Bosley said he works hard at maintaining his end of the verbal agreements. “If I tell someone I want something and they start to produce it, I take it.”

His menu lists farmers’ names and tells a little bit about their products.

There has been a learning curve among the clientele at Parker’s, but Bosley said the response has become stronger in the last two years. “Our public has been told you can have whatever you want, whenever you want,” Bosley said. “We’re telling the public ‘you’re going to find what’s being produced in northeastern Ohio right now.’”

One woman called to ask when the restaurant would start serving its vegetarian vegetable ragout, and then in the summer, she came in at least six times to order it and even requested the dish be served at a dinner Parker’s was catering for her.

“Our food reflects the time and place in which we cook,” Bosley said.

Parker’s is located at 2801 Bridge Avenue in Cleveland. It is open for dinner only, except on Friday, when the restaurant also serves lunch. It is closed Monday. For reservations, call 216-771-7130.

About the Author

Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell has been with the paper since 1985, serving as its editor since 1989. Raised on a farm in Holmes County, she is a graduate of Kent State University. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/scrowell and follow Farm and Dairy at http://twitter.com/farmanddairy. You can also find her on Google+ and Facebook. More Stories by Susan Crowell

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