The New Speed Dating: Matchmaking Chefs & Farmers

It seems that any kind of relationship building these days has become an intricately orchestrated event. Even seemingly natural symbiotic relationships like chefs and farmers are needing a little nudge in this modern world of ours. To help these two groups out, D.C.’s Bluejacket, a sleek and stylish restaurant/brewery built inside an old factory, called a convocation of the nation’s ultimate foodies.

Farmers and chefs flocked to the matchmaking event not to find romantic love, but to get set up with those who share their love of local food in an effort to expand the reach of the farm to table market. 

The matchmaker of this event is Pamela Hess, executive director of the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture. For the past five years, she’s been putting together this annual meet-and-greet in different locations in the area. Her goal? To pair each attending farmer with a list of potential matches.

She tells NPR that she approaches the matchmaking in a very organic way. “We connected folks based on where they’re located, what they grow, what they want to buy,” Hess says.

It’s no surprise that these types of events have blossomed in popularity. Hess says that this is due to the fact that forging these relationships over food is necessary, but not always natural. Generally, this is due to geography.

It’s no surprise that farmers and chefs tend to live in different places. Plus, they also work on nearly opposing schedules with farmers getting up with the rooster and chefs going to bed at their call. Furthermore, according to the executive chef at Blue Jacket, Marcelle Afram, these two groups are made up of very different people

“We have these stereotypes in the industry, the farmer is shy and the chef is ferocious,” she says. “So some mitigation with a couple of beers might help,” Afram tells NPR.

The Importance of The Farm – Restaurant Relationship

It is no surprise to anyone that having a few brews does indeed help the conversation flow.

However, one chef, Spike Gjerde, the award-winning chef at Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore, admonishes the light-hearted atmosphere of the meet-and-greet, claiming that it diminishes the importance behind why each individual is attending the event.

“I think it’s anything but light-hearted,” he tells NPR sternly. “What this is about is confronting some of the most serious aspects of our food system, and what we’re trying to solve here is some of the ways that our food system is failing us.”

Despite this, according to the NPR reporter on site, most folks left the gathering happy. Many even said that they’d made some promising contacts. And if nothing else, that is the first step in the right direction to changing the food culture in America. 

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