Local When Possible

Published on: Fri, Jul 01, 2016

The Chestnut Tree finds its produce close to home

It was springtime on a plate: red strawberries, orange cantaloupe, green kiwis, purple grapes. And on the other half, two slices of a freshly baked English muffin garnished with sautéed spinach, thinly-sliced pieces of spiced-baked ham, and a perfectly poached egg drizzled with hollandaise sauce. The meal was almost too perfect to eat. With the first bite – crunchy, buttery, savory, sweet, then tangy – one tastes the fresh and real flavors and textures as only a locally-sourced meal could provide.

The term “locally-sourced food” tops the National Restaurant Association’s 2016 Culinary Forecast list. We are becoming a more health-conscious society, so it’s only natural that we want our meals prepared with fresh local produce and meats, with healthy ingredients coming from somewhere that you know. Denton has you covered. Whether you’re looking for a night out or just a quick snack, there are plenty of healthy options around town.

The next time you’re around the Denton Square, stop by the Chestnut Tree Teahouse and Bistro on West Hickory Street. You can’t miss the only bright green Locally Sourced Buttonsbuilding on the street. The restaurant has evolved over the last 22 years (it used to be an antique store with a tea room), but the one constant has been its preference for locally sourced ingredients.

“Our thought process behind that is, ‘Local when possible,’” said Suzanne Schneider Johnson, head chef and Chestnut Tree general manager.
In fact, that is why Suzanne wanted to work there. “I was a customer before I worked here, and part of the reason why I wanted to come here is because I liked what Valeree Clegg, the owner, was doing.”

The Chestnut Tree uses locally-sourced produce, from farmers such as Cardo’s Farm Project, Earthwise Garden & Produce and Denton’s Backyard Farms. When it comes to getting the food from farm-to-table, Suzanne’s communication with the farmers is very direct. “When I buy from farms, farmers usually say to me, ‘Here is what we’re going to grow’ and ‘Here is when this is available.’ They ask, ‘Is there anything that you would like to see that we don’t have?’ So, that’s how the whole process starts when dealing with a farmer.”

It may be easier and more convenient not to buy locally but not usually healthier or tastier. Mass-producing food vendors often treat produce with wax or chemicals to prolong its shelf life, robbing consumers of the true taste of the produce.

“A mass-produced tomato will have kind of a waxy texture to it that is not naturally occurring,” Suzanne said. “Whereas with local, farmers will call me and tell me they have tomatoes and will have them delivered by tomorrow. The lifespan is shorter because it doesn’t have that wax coating, but it tastes like what a tomato is supposed to taste like.”

Going completely local isn’t possible in North Texas. Weather plays a huge factor in what restaurants can get.

“There are times where we are more local than other times of the year. In the winter, greens are heartier. In the spring, tomatoes are heartier. In the winter, we don’t get local tomatoes because they just don’t exist,” Suzanne said. With foods sourced outside our area, Suzanne notes that they always try to make the right decision by buying from the best food vendors and buying non-mass-produced poultry and fish.

LSR_Amber Reece

Photo by Amber Reece

“You have to figure out what’s the best solution and do as much as you can from around the area, while maintaining options and affordability for customers.”

Another reason for choosing local: it puts money back into the local economy. “I think there’s a lot more concern and consideration in investing in local economies than there used to be,” Suzanne said. “It directly affects your neighbors. The guy who owns Earthwise Produce is Ryan Crocker. When you pay money to Ryan Crocker, that money is not going to pay some CEO’s $400,000 salary. It’s going to make sure his kids have soccer practice.”

The longevity of the Chestnut Tree is a testament to its success here in Denton. It isn’t a coincidence to Suzanne that her older, successful restaurant features locally-sourced food.

“A lot of businesses will fight to stay open,”Suzanne acknowledged. “We’re busier than we’ve ever been and that’s a good place to be. And I definitely think a lot of that has to do with the fact that we do use local.”

Food bursting with flavor, helping local farmers and keeping businesses open longer —locally-sourced food is definitely a win-win-win proposition for Denton!