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Meal is a Toast to Local Foods

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By Emily J Weitz

The idea of getting closer to the source is not a novel one any more. In its fourth year and growing strong, the Eat/Drink Local Festival is proof of this. What began as an inspired thought from the offices of Edible magazine has grown to include hundreds of small businesses around the tri-state area, joining together to support a movement.

“Eat Drink Local was conceived as a restaurant week with a mission,” says Brian Halweil, editor of Edible East End and publisher of Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn. “We’re helping to point our readers towards those restaurants that support Edible’s mission, and to help boost the buying of local food and drink.”

The Eat/Drink Local Festival is more than a restaurant week, although restaurants from Manhattan to Montauk will be offering prix fixe specials. But there’s more to these specials than just offering a good deal. The connecting factor, in addition to the mission, is the specific ingredients used. Each year, the committee selects one ingredient for each day of Eat/Drink Local Week. These ingredients, eight in all, are seasonal, locally available, and underutilized. This year, the ingredients include spinach, eggs, goat (including milk, cheese, yogurt, and meat), radishes, rose wines, porgy, fava beans, and hops.

“These ingredients were crowd-sourced from our readers,” says Halweil. “[They] suggested them because they are products raised in our region that need more support. Buying local eggs or goat products, for instance, helps support all the farmers who have recently started keeping poultry and small livestock. Porgy are a delicious, but sometimes overlooked, local fish whose quotas New York state recently raised, which means fishers can catch more of them and we can eat more of them.”

Area restaurants getting involved with the movement include 1770 House, Almond, Babette’s, Bay Burger, Beacon, Foodie’s, Fresno, Nick and Toni’s, Race Lane, redbar, South Fork Kitchen, and the Sea Grille at Gurney’s.

“All the restaurants were curated and invited by Edible because they do a great job of featuring local produce, seafood, wine, beer and more,” says Halweil. “During the week, each is required to offer a prix-fixe featuring our seasonal ingredients… This is something that most of them do throughout the year, but this is a week where we draw attention to it.”

But Eat Drink Local takes steps beyond the restaurant offerings. It’s as much about preparing fresh local food at home, cracking open a bottle of wine in the backyard, or grabbing food from a local market for a picnic on the beach. Vineyards, breweries, cheese shops, and butchers are all getting involved, and a complete list can be seen at www.ediblemanhattan.com/guide.

It goes further, still. The passionate heart at the center of the movement is about knowledge and awareness. Events throughout the week are intended to inform and inspire. Most events take place in the city, like the chef demos and prize giveaways at the Grand Army Plaza farmers’ market in Brooklyn to kick off the week, on June 23. The Children’s Museum of Manhattan (CMOM) will host Eat Play Local at its Upper West Side location on June 27, and on June 28 the Edible Eat Drink Local Feast will feature the ingredients of Eat Drink Local Week at a special dinner at City Grit Culinary Salon. On the East End on June 30, the Silas Marder Gallery will host an evening of food and film in conjunction with the Parrish Art Museum.

Andrea Grover, Curator of Programs at the Parrish, put together a series of shorts that traces the history of eating and drinking local on the East End, and it will be shown on the outdoor screen at Marder’s. She drew from home movie footage as well as carefully cut documentaries. One short shows a home movie of an oyster bed planting in the 1950s. Another shows 16mm footage from the 30s and 40s of Fort Pond in Montauk, with green turtles and swordfish swimming around.

“They’re all about local food producers,” says Grover, “and I tried to cover a few decades. You’ll see how the landscape has evolved. They’re all short pieces, and fit together kind of like a collage. You walk away with a sense of the farming community, the artisan food community, the fishing community.”

In addition to a film about honeybee production, there will be a demo by the Bee’s Needs at Marder’s that night.

“Mary Woltz is a beekeeper,” says Alana Leland, director of the gallery at Marder’s. “She has the bees on the property here at Marder’s, and we sell her honey here in the shop. She’ll bring the box in near the gallery and will pull a sleeve of bees out so people can see the bees at work. It’s really fascinating to see up close.”

The Eat Drink Local Festival started in New York City, but there’s an argument that it is most relevant right here on the East End.

“We still have a diverse and vibrant agricultural community,” says Halweil. “And if we don’t support that community, then it will disappear from our landscape and surrounding waters. Wherever you are, eating local is good for your health, boosts the local economy, and means you get the freshest food. On the East End, it also connects you to your neighbors.”