By Sister Kathy Curtis
As these things usually do, it started with the question: “where can I get…?” and ended up with money and goods changing hands. Oh, and a really awesome meal for a 100 people.
This is a true story and none of the names have been changed because these guys want you to know what they are doing.
First up in our cast of characters is Chef William Gentry. He is a personal chef by trade and the man responsible for feeding Chris Stapleton and his crew on their recent tour. Country Music Award winner Chris Stapleton, is a local boy. He grew up in the small town of Staffordsville, Kentucky, which is just outside of Paintsville, located between the city and the Paintsville Lake. The tour had him playing in Roanoke, Virginia on Friday night, then packing up and driving all night to get to Pikeville for a Saturday show at the Hillbilly Days Festival.
Chris for all his greatness is not the star of this story though. Back to Chef William.
“Chef William Gentry specializes in creating delicious local food prepared with environmentally responsible practices. After fifteen years of working in professional kitchens, Chef William Gentry has moved his focus to the home kitchen. As the sous-chef at Tayst Restaurant (Nashville’s first certified green restaurant) and chef of Local Kitchen Catering at the side of Executive Chef Jeremy Barlow, Gentry developed great relationships with local farmers that he wants to bring to your table”. (Source: http://chefwilliamgentry.com/)
Apparently, great relationships with local farmers is something Chef William continues to do while on the road. When he asked about local farmers in the Pikeville area, he was told to contact Suzanne Stumbo, UK Extension Agent for Pike County. So, I asked her to tell what happened next:
“I was emailed by Chef William Gentry who wanted to procure local produce for a dinner. Over a period of about 2 weeks we communicated back and forth to determine what could be provided locally. I gave him the contact information for Four Petal Farm, Appalachian Meats, and Indian Creek Settlement. I couldn’t think of anyone else local to provide fresh products. Everybody was just starting for 2017. Even the high tunnels were just being installed” said Suzanne.
Next, in our story is John Rehmeyer of Four Petal Farm:
“Chef Gentry called me and asked what we had for sale, then he went down the list of what he wanted and how much. He knew what he was looking for” John [Rehmeyer] told me.
Chris Stapleton and his entourage left Roanoke about midnight which put Chef Gentry in the parking lot of the Pikeville Food City at 7:00am.
“He called to tell me when he would be there, so me and the girls loaded up the truck. We got to Food City and went inside to find him. He was easy to spot. He was the only guy in the place with dreadlocks. Together, we went out to the truck. As we walked out up pulled Jon [Reinford] from Appalachian Meats in his Explorer. I have to admit; Chef Gentry was a little surprised by the quality of what we had. After all it was Hillbilly Days, with its deep-fried Reese’s Cups and all.”
Quality is something John knows about. He and his wife Cathy have been taught by a local celebrity, Matt Corbin owner of two Pikeville favorites: The Blue Raven and Sliced. Corbin is known to be a real champion of buying local ingredients for his restaurants. Sliced even has the Four Petal Farm Pizza is a menu item featuring ingredients from the Rehmeyer’s. John [Rehmeyer] says, “Matt has told us what chefs are looking for when it comes to fresh food”.
And what did Chef William get from our local producers? Quality.
“We gave him beautiful purple sprouting broccoli, snow white casper kale and flowerets, crispy lacinto kale, and we had some of Emily Whitakers’ Windy Hills coffee in our store, so we tossed that in there too” said John [Rehmeyer].
“He got Ribeye and New-York Strip steaks and chicken from us” said Jon [Reinford], from Appalachian Meats.
“So, he handed me my money and I handed him the produce and the girls and I headed home. And Appalachian Meats Jon, was right behind me. Deal done and the sun hadn’t gotten over the ridge top yet” said John [Rehmeyer].
I loved hearing this story and wanted to share it with you for two reasons:
First of all, I love hearing how people are working together to develop our local food system. When Suzanne got the call from Chef William, she knew what names to give him because she is “committed to working with the small farmers in our area”. When John Rehmeyer talked to Chef William about what he had for sale, he knew what chefs were looking for because of conversations he and Cathy have had with Matt Corbin of the Blue Raven. It takes a lot of people to create a “system”.
Second, and most important, if a chef from New York City can go out of his way to find fresh local food in Pikeville Kentucky, why don’t we? We have an abundance of local produce and meats here in the mountains of Central Appalachia, much of it being produced by small family farms. To me it seems like buying food straight from the farmer is a delicious way to get healthy food, support my neighbor and build the local economy.
Don’t know a farmer personally? Find a farmers market. Just about every county in the region has one. Here is a handy website to find one that is Kentucky Proud. Additionally, you can call your local extension agent or ask your neighbor or…well you get the idea.
Until next time, KC.
Breaking Beans: Appalachian Food Story Project is an initiative of Community Farm Alliance to tell the story of how local food and farming in Eastern Kentucky can contribute to a bright future in the mountains. Read the stories at cfaky.org/blog