by Bruce E. Boyers
Crunch into a just-picked carrot or arugula leaf and you get that earthy flavor that only farm-fresh delivers. Sadly, that unique flavor dissipates quickly once the veggies leave their nutrient source, making it hard to capture in even the freshest market or restaurant produce.
Order the 2-Hour Salad at Trellis Restaurant in Washington, though, and those earthy taste buds will fire when you bite into just about the freshest salad any restaurant can produce. Like its name implies, the salad ingredients are picked, prepped and served within two hours. In addition to providing a singular dining experience, the 2-Hour Salad symbolizes the evolution of our country’s burgeoning farm-to-table movement.
The Epitome of Fresh
Farm-to-table cuisine has become highly popular throughout the US, pioneered by renowned chefs such as Alice Waters, Dan Barber and Suzanne Goin. But Brian Scheehser, executive chef at the esteemed Trellis Restaurant in Kirkland, Washington, has captured its spirit with his 2-Hour Salad.
“The inspiration for the 2-Hour Salad was being able to have that flavor that you just don’t get otherwise,” Scheehser tells Calmful Living. “Flavors change once they’re picked; lettuces get old and begin to wilt, and they lose flavor. Something like a beet may change to be totally different: when it’s picked it’s not as starchy; or it’s really starchy, and as it sits it becomes sweet and sugars start to develop. Carrots are the same way; when you pick them they have a flavor that’s amazing—that earthiness—and as they sit, they lose that.”
The ingredients Scheehser is utilizing for the salad come from his very own ten-acre farm, a mere six miles from the Trellis kitchen. While ingredients vary with the seasons, the salad generally contains a variety of lettuces, tomatoes, herbs, radishes and onions, and can also include other farm-fresh delectables as they are available. It is topped with Chef Scheehser’s own balsamic dressing.
The 2-Hour Salad dovetails with Trellis’s overall specialty, which is farm-to-table cuisine. Scheehser’s farm provides all of its produce to Trellis. “Everything is picked fresh and served on the menu that evening. We only pick what our needs are for the day.”
Produce and meats beyond what the farm can provide are almost all obtained from other local producers. “In addition to my farm, I work with other small artisan farmers and family vendors. For instance, I obtain my fish from Mutual Fish, one of the high-end fish markets in the Seattle area. Then we work with some small companies out of Portland as far as meat and game go and what they have available, and we rotate those through our specials.”
Just over seven years ago, Scheehser was brought in at the ground floor to provide the farm-to-table experience to guests of the Heathman Hotel, in which Trellis is located. “When Heathman Hotels was in the process of building a hotel here in Kirkland, they knew they wanted a signature restaurant in the hotel,” Scheehser recalls. “They had done a survey in the surrounding communities on what our customer base was looking for, and they desired a wine country–inspired restaurant. Ownership searched for chefs who would fall into that category and found, through connections, that I had a farm only fifteen minutes away in Woodinville. It was the perfect pairing.”
Farm Born from Frustration
Scheehser’s farm—ten acres plus ten greenhouses—came into existence fourteen years ago when he grew tired of paying top dollar for certain produce varieties while at his previous job as executive chef at Seattle’s Sorrento Hotel.
“For me, farming came out of frustration,” he says. “A typical example would be that, for the Pacific Northwest, tomatoes have a very short season. When they are in season, you want to do something for your guests like a really beautiful heirloom tomato salad—and they’re six dollars a pound. You’re paying eight bucks for one big giant tomato; then you slice that and have to pass those costs on to your guests.
“So I started growing some of the unique heirloom varieties that were really hard to obtain, or really expensive, so that I could supply them to our guests at a better cost. That’s where the farming started, and now it’s sort of a selfish indulgence. We just grow for the restaurant, and we do some processing so that we have pantry items available in the restaurant throughout the winter months.”
The crops grown on the farm have extended far beyond heirloom tomatoes. Its produce includes lettuces, radicchio, herbs, carrots, peppers, squashes, onions, potatoes, apples and much more.
Taking Farm-to-Table to the Tap Room and Beyond
Scheehser never stops finding unique uses for his farm’s produce—and has extended them in some remarkably creative ways. “We’re always looking at new things,” he reports. “About two years ago I started working with a small local start-up dairy in Duvall, Washington, called Cherry Valley Dairy. We’re collaborating on some artisan cheeses using products from the farm. We have a carrot-nasturtium cheese, which took second place in the American Cheese Society judging last year, out of 257 entries. We’ve also got a blueberry-basil, and did a hop-jack with hops from the farm, which we featured at a beer dinner. All the cheeses are now available at the restaurant.
“I have a collaboration going as well with Lompoc Brewery down in Portland; we’re crafting some beers with products from the farm. We did an apple saison beer aged in stainless steel, and a blackberry-thyme golden ale aged in red-wine casks—both are seasonal beers that we can feature on our menu here and on their menu in their taprooms down in Portland.
“We’re always seeking something new and unique through different ways the farm can touch the restaurant.”
For more information on Trellis, please visit www.heathmankirkland.com/trellis/trellis-restaurant.aspx