My first first response to the idea of a tapas menu or plate was “That’s too small to satisfy a hungry farmer!” My meat and potato mentality couldn’t be more wrong. I also realized this delicate, small, Spanish-style savory dish has the potential to be the best marketing opportunity yet because that one bite tells a story of the local terroir. And people actually like a good story over a meal.
I learned all this when my wife and I enjoyed a “taste, tour and tapas” event at Glenora Wine Cellars on Seneca Lake. Our Sommelier, Joe, was affectionately describing the rich history and the qualities of the wine that was paired with a tapas of pomegranate glazed pork medallions and bistro steak on a bed of corn avocado salsa, when a patron asked, “Where the meat came from?” To his credit, Joe didn’t lie but said he didn’t know, other than the protein came from a food delivery company.
This question started a chain reaction among the guests who thought that the story of the wine should be paired with a story of the food served. “It would be a good investment in procurement because we’re here for the experiences”, said the patron.
To a farmer, it was music to my ears. Those tasty morsels could easily have come from the farms of my livestock and vegetable growing friends in the Finger Lakes. Because they were small bites, they could get a lot more portions out of a particular cut or plant thereby minimizing waste and packaging. These tapas tastes combined with information on a particular farm could potentially drive customers to the countryside to buy. What an opportunity from one bite of delicious food!
The theme continued when we booked a stay along with some friends at the Rose Petal Inn Bed and Breakfast in Geneva, NY where hosts, Rossana and Chef Andrew showcased a Saturday night, tapas-style, 9 course smorgasbord of local flavors. I found out that this meal was choreographed and sourced based on local availability and communication between farmer and chef, giving the customer an authentic experience of the region. The story telling around each ingredient – where it came from, the impeccable taste and why it was prepared along cultural lines – was fascinating. It made me feel appreciated as a farmer.
Much like the wine tasting phenomenon, the tapas style of slower, more thoughtful eating can give customers a glimpse into the aromas and flavors produced locally instead of a no-name, all-you-can-eat buffet covered in breading. What’s exciting is watching the buildup and reaction to a good plate of food with a story.
My question is, can the meat and vegetables we raise become a regular part of the masterpieces they serve, as opposed to occasional? Can we, as farmers, encourage Chefs and establishments to tell our stories as they serve spectacular bites of food paired with wine? Can we demonstrate that local food pairs well with wine and tourism? I feel like those who see this opportunity as I saw it unfold; will be able to capitalize as the guests will be drawn to a business who see their vision.
Good food is a vessel for good experiences. The tapas menu is an opportunity that sells itself and leaves a person truly full.