Solera's Jorge Guzman talks Farm in the Cities

Solera Chef Jorge Guzman, host of the 2012 Farm in the Cities
Solera Chef Jorge Guzman, host of the 2012 Farm in the Cities
photo courtesy of Jorge's Twitter page

See also: Solera hosts second annual Farm in the Cities

Jorge Guzman; many of you know him as the man behind Solera's comeback. His new menus have been met with critical kindness, and his dedication to locally sourced, sustainable products is quickly turning him into a community pillar. Perhaps lesser known is his involvement with the budding charity event Farm in the Cities.

Now in its second year, Farm in the Cities is a large scale farm to table feast where guests can meet and connect with both local farmers and chefs. Each year Farm in the Cities designates a local organization to be the recipient of 100 percent of the events proceeds. This year, that organization is the Youth Farm and Market Project. More commonly referred to as Youth farms, the organization teaches leadership skills to kids through education and urban agriculture.

We recently to sat down with Guzman to find out a little about his background and how that pushed him to get involved in supporting local foods and local farmers.

Chef's from last year's Farm in the Cities.
Chef's from last year's Farm in the Cities.
Photo courtesy of Farm in the Cities Facebook Page

Okay, so let's first talk a little bit about your background. Where did you start cooking, and when?

I guess I started when I was 16 or 17 in St. Louis. I wanted to get into the restaurant business, and one of my girlfriends' fathers was a purveyor. He knew a bunch a chefs, and he said try it out for the summer, and if you like it then move forward. If you don't, then you don't. He said you're either going to love it or hate it. I worked at a French Bistro called Chez Leon in the central west-end of St. Louis. I prepped, bused, expedited, and pretty much did everything but cook, and I had a blast. I loved it. From there I went on to college and worked at a bar and grill for three years, pretty much slinging hash, burgers, pasta's, chicken fingers, salads, and that kind of stuff. My last year of college I worked at a steak house, and then from there I went on to culinary school.

What got you into the local food movement and working with local farmers?

I was working at Tejas as their chef, and I got invited to do a thing at the State Fair where you cook with a bunch of other local chefs, and it just kind of turned me on to the whole thing. I was using a couple of local purveyors, but that's really where I started using local as much as I could. That company allowed me to do a lot of things, so that's kind of where I got my feet wet. From there I went to work for Scott Pampuch, who used to own Corner Table, and through working at his restaurant I made a lot of connections with local farmers, and I just thought it was the right thing to do and the right way to eat. What better way to support your local economy? And the food's better.

The event.
The event.
Photo courtesy of Farm in the Cities Facebook Page

How did you come into doing events for local charities?

Last year Maurice [Smith, of Dragsmith Farms] came to a bunch of us chefs and said, "I've got this grant, and I want to do this event. Can you help us? It was really short notice, and I kind of took the lead from the chefs standpoint and put the event together within two months. I got a bunch of good chefs, and last year we chose Second Harvest Heartland, because we were all really familiar with that organization. Then this year we wanted to change it up. I think with Youth Farms, you a see a big push right now with child diabetes and eating healthy. We want to kind of gear it toward the youth. Adults know that they should eat healthy, kids follow their parents. Can we educate the kids before we educate the parents? Sure, why not.

Youth Farms is a great organization. They take all these kids, and it's a way to teach them leadership skills through farming, which is really ingenious. They get a sense of self and a sense of ownership. They learn what good food is and they learn how to cook it. A lot of kids these days don't know what broccoli or cucumbers even are, and it's really sad. Through this organization they get really familiar with these kinds of foods.

Tell us a little bit about Farm in the Cities?

Really it's pretty cut and dry. We're going to bring a bunch of farmers that a lot of our restaurants who are participating use. For instance, Star Thrower Farms, Laughing Loon, Bossy Acres, and then some more established farms like Dragsmith, who've been around from almost 100 years. They'll all be on the second floor from 4 to 6 p.m., so you can meet the farmers and know where to get their food.

There will be a cash bar available, and the event is free from 4 to 6 p.m. The dinner portion then is only $45, which is super cheap. We've got some of the best chefs in the Twin Cities coming to do a seven-course meal with wine and beer pairing. You can't get that deal anywhere.

It's a really laid back kind of atmosphere. It's not a black-tie event or anything like that. One thing we wanted to focus on was to have people come and meet the farmers. Dinner starts at 6:30 p.m. The cool thing about dinner is that it's kind of like on display. All of the chefs will be in the middle of the room plating so everybody will get to watch the chefs pretty much hang out and do their plates. That's what people really liked last year.

Tilia chef Steven Brown
Tilia chef Steven Brown
Photo courtesy of Farm in the Cities Facebook Page

Is each chef going to be doing their own course?

Each chef is paired, so there are seven courses, and I think we have 13 chefs, and one dessert course will be done by our pastry chef, Joanna Bisner, and then every other course is paired. For instance, Landon Schoenefeld and Steven Brown are paired together, Jack Riebel and Matt Paulson are paired together, and the duo from Red Stag and Barbette are paired together. It's kind of a culmination, which is really cool. It gets the chef to work with another chef, which a lot of times you don't get to do because we're always busy.

You mentioned a few names, who else will be there?

Yeah, so it'll be Mike Phillips from Three Sons Meat Company, Jack Riebel from Butcher & the Boar, Matt Paulson from the Sample Room, Sarah Master from Barbette, Brian Hauke from Red Stag, Fernando Silvo from Harriette Brasserie, me, Landon Schoenefeld from Haute Dish, Lenny Russo from Heartland, and Wyatt Evens from W.A. Frost. It's a pretty good list.

Tickets for the event are sold out, but if you're interested in making a donation to Youth Farms, you can do so through the event page by clicking here.

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Solera Restaurant & Event Center - Closed

900 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55403


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