Sharing a good meal with friends is one of life’s great pleasures, and enjoying a meal prepared with the freshest local ingredients is even more satisfying. The 21 chefs inducted into the Georgia Grown Executive Chef program, a partnership between the Georgia Department of Agriculture and the Georgia Restaurant Association, are committed to promoting Georgia- grown products through their restaurants’ menus and educating diners and consumers about how and where their food is produced.
Cooking Up Ag Knowledge
The Georgia Grown Executive Chef program was initiated in 2012 as a way to introduce consumers to seasonal, locally sourced products through dining out. Chefs apply to the program, and those selected to participate agree to incorporate locally grown products into their menus; develop relationships with farmers so they’re able to acquire a working knowledge of which products are available during the cooking season; and, most importantly, educate diners and the public about Georgia-grown products and their producers.
“The program gives chefs the tools to know their farmers and continue to grow their consumption of local agriculture, which in turn adds not only to the food we eat but to the local economy,” says Savannah Haseler, chef of Twain’s Brewpub & Billiards and one of five 2016 inductees into the Executive Chef program. “Hopefully, we’re doing a great job at letting consumers see the faces behind their food, which people love. The program is constantly displaying new Georgia products, which the chefs can in turn introduce to the consumers. I have talked to so many of our patrons about the availability of local products not only at the farmers market, but also at their local grocery.”
Haseler received her culinary training from Le Cordon Bleu in Pittsburgh and has spent a good amount of her career integrating French and Southern cuisine. She applied to the Executive Chef program after meeting Holly Chute during a Springer Mountain Farm Tour. Chute was one of the first Executive Chef inductees in 2012 and now serves as the full- time Georgia Grown chef and culinary ambassador.
“Georgia has such incredible agriculture and products available. I want more people to know about them and also how to use them,” Chute says.
“The program is all about raising awareness,” says Derek Dollar, executive chef of Milton’s Cuisine & Cocktails and a 2016 Executive Chef inductee. “We’re raising awareness about products that are grown in Georgia and the fact that we’re not having to import these products from places like California because they’re grown right here.”
Dollar studied culinary science at the Art Institute of Atlanta before landing a job at Rainwater restaurant in Alpharetta. He joined Milton’s as sous-chef in 2011 and quickly rose in rank to executive chef in 2013. In addition to program-sponsored cooking events, the Executive Chefs also take part in educational programs at schools.
“The education really starts with the kids – educating them about things like what a green bean tastes like when you pick it. My son’s almost 4, and every time I bring him to the garden, he just goes and picks a green bean and eats it right off the plant, because it’s so tender,” Dollar says. “(Through these educational programs) the parents get involved because the kids love it, and so it comes full circle in a roundabout way.”
Dollar helps manage an anchor garden on site of Milton’s Cuisine & Cocktails but says he has learned much more about Georgia agriculture since joining the Executive Chef program.
“I’ve learned that there’s a lot more farms than I realized. A lot of people grow certain things. There’s a farm that just grows summer squash and a farm that will just grow tomatoes. That’s pretty interesting,” he says.