Photo credit: Patty Fantasia
For Las Vegans Who Love Food “Bet on the Farm” Isn’t a Gamble
On Tuesday, November 9th, the Japan America Society of Nevada honored Doug Taylor, Executive Pastry Chef for restauranters Mario Batali and Lidia and Joe Bastianich and Manager of the “Bet on the Farm” Farmers Market, with a special luncheon held at MEET Las Vegas. After the meal Jim Owen from MEET Las Vegas provided the attendees with details about the three story venue describing how clients can customize the décor for any event. The property boasts two computer- based executive training labs, full service banquet facilities and an outdoor pavilion and has been booked to host meetings, fashion shows, parties and weddings. “There’s a lot of flexibility in this building,” he stated proudly. Afterwards Jeffrey Winchester, President of the JASN and Board Member John Donovan spoke about the organization and the growing demand for fresh quality ingredients in both American and Japanese cuisine, before introducing Taylor.
During the rest of the meeting, Doug spoke about the need for sustainable food and the growth of the Farmers Market that he’s played a significant role in establishing. Located at 7485 Dean Martin Drive in Suite 106, “Bet on the Farm” is open to the public every Thursday from 11:00am – 1:00pm and offers a variety of fruit, vegetables and herbs. Among the popular items found there are pistachios from O.U.NUTS, local roasted coffee from CRCR and dates from China Ranch. All produce there is either grown locally or trucked in from Southern California, yet many Las Vegans are unaware of its’ existence and the fact that Nevada has so many farmers. With the support of Batali and his Las Vegas restaurants The Carneveno Italian Steakhouse, B&B Ristorante and Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, Taylor has been making a concentrated effort to change all that.
The Pastry Chef admitted that moving to Las Vegas was culture shock for him, especially after growing up in Hawaii where all he would have to do to find fresh fruit was simply pick up a papaya or pineapple from out in the yard. Upon arriving here, Doug discovered from the MGM food director that his fruit would be ordered for him and then delivered three days later, so there was no mechanism in place allowing him to do his own shopping.
“It was very depressing for me when I moved to Vegas,” Taylor admitted. Nobody knew how to reach the local farmers in the area and there was no connection with them. So, when Carnevino opened, Doug told Batali he wanted to find out if anything could be grown here in Vegas. In the beginning everyone thought the idea was pointless because there was no known agriculture. In fact, Doug joked that his colleagues, his chefs and even Batali himself thought he was kind of crazy for going out to the desert looking for farmers. However, he kept searching and his persistence paid off as he made connections and word started to spread. Three years ago they started out with one farmer and now there are over 50 local producers within a 150 mile radius of downtown.
Using a slide show presentation, Doug showed how all of our food had been brought in by trucks from California, Mexico and other locations, which was partly caused by the birth of the megaresort hotels in Las Vegas. In order to bring about change, questions needed to be answered, such as would the chefs be willing to pay local producers. “The big trick was trying to convince farmers that we were serious,” Doug related. This required discussing how these new ideas would benefit them and showing them that what he was looking for didn’t look like a grocery store. “I want flavor. I want quality of product,” Taylor said. Once the new concept caught on, chefs were able to adjust their menus according to seasonality and also build relationships with producers. “Bet on the Farm” currently delivers to over 30 restaurants and the number of weekly visitors to the market has grown from a couple dozen to over 1,000. This has resulted in chefs building better food systems inside their restaurants and farmers experiencing demand for what they produce. The number of places where locally grown food can be found is also expanding due to the increased communication between producers and chefs.
However, despite the tremendous progress, there are still concerns including the lack of confidence in producers. Taylor admits that even today when he speaks to chefs their number one question is whether anything can grow here. “They don’t believe it,” he commented. Some of the slides he showed featured details local farmers he has been dealing with. One producer that has become a fan favorite at the Market is O.U. NUTS in Pahrump, which has a 28 acre pistachio field. These farm fresh ingredients are used in making the much lauded pistachio gelato found in Batali’s restaurants. Another producer from Overton began farming with 2 acres and has expanded to 6 within a 2 year period. Then there’s the Bar 10, a 5th generation cattle ranch that for the first time has sold out all of their products. “They do all their sales online, then they come down to Vegas and they deliver at the market,” Doug said.
This growth has been possible because of the information regarding licensing and regulations that “Bet on the Farm” shares and the standards it has implemented. These include taste and sizing tests for the farmers which help determine whether the quality and the visual and flavor profiles are at market price and at market value aiding producers in establishing pricing.
Taylor added that one factor contributing to the success of “Bet on the Farm” is that it is situated indoors. He said that if you’re outside in the winter it’s too windy and too cold for people and in the summer the produce wouldn’t last because of the heat. Summing up, he told the audience that not only has the number of producers grown, but there’s also been an increase in local food supplies in Las Vegas and development in markets and green initiatives. He said that when people think of local food or farmers markets their thoughts go to other major cities such as Santa Monica, San Francisco and Chicago. “When you think of farmers markets, first off, you don’t think of Las Vegas, Nevada, but we have some of the best produce that I’ve seen at any market,” he asserted adding that one thing he never realized is how far outside these cities people have to travel in order to get their food. He concluded by saying, “It’s nowhere near as close as where we are. So, we really have the best of both worlds: our growing season is very long and we can grow almost anything we want."
Among those from “Bet on the Farm” who attended the luncheon were: Rosalind and Randy Gibson from Bloom’n Desert Herbs, Marcus Sgrizzi from PARMA Restaurant, Hydro Greeens’ Will Villasuso. Special invited guests included: the MGM Grand’s Debbie Ngai, Loretta Holt and Wayne Bridge from the Sin City Chamber of Commerce, Nevada State College President Lesley Di Mare and Myken Bevilaqua from La Voce.
Japan America Society of Nevada President Jeffrey Winchester
Manager of "Bet on the Farm" Doug Taylor
JASN Board Member John Donovan
Guest of Honor Doug Taylor with Jim Owen from MEET Las Vegas