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Hey, Locavores: Rate the Plate!

Blog Archive | August 3, 2010 | By Karly Wentzloff

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Four restaurants in the Frankfort-Elberta area are cooking with local food to compete in the Green Plate Challenge.

Do you ever wish eating local could be easy? Well, for the next seven weeks in Frankfort and Elberta, it is not only easy, it’s spiced up with some friendly competition.

Four restaurants in those two towns are staging something brand-new: the Green Plate Challenge. Each eatery is featuring one menu item that is made almost entirely with locally raised ingredients-at least 90 percent local by weight.

Between now and September 21, you can visit those restaurants and order their locally sourced entree and then go home, hop online, and rate the plate on taste, originality, and presentation. At the end of the challenge, the restaurant with the highest ratings from its locavore customers wins a Green Plate.

So, at least for a little while, local food fan, it is now possible to eat out, but still eat local-at least if you like the special dishes these places are serving. The dining spots include the Betsie Bay Inn, Coho Café, and Tali Bistro, in Frankfort, and the Cabbage Shed, in Elberta.

The Green Plate Challenge is a good thing because it will benefit local farms and restaurants.

Farms will sell more of their products to the restaurants, and build a bit of a new market for their products. Longtime chef and restaurateur Jim Barnes, creator of the Challenge, said he was inspired to do it because farmers are “not just commodities, but they are artists growing right from the earth.”

But Mr. Barnes said the Challenge is also helping the restaurants. It’s a way for chefs not only to “upgrade and improve the connections with farmers, but also their culinary skills.” And, he added, it will bring in new clientele looking for fresh, seasonal dishes.

The four competing restaurants’ chefs received a list of farmers who are willing to participate, but they were also encouraged to source from anywhere within 100 miles. So don’t expect to just find local eggs and lettuce on the menu.

In fact, a few of the green plate entrees do strive for originality and feature exotic items, such as emu meat, as the main ingredient. Mr. Barnes said he hopes that the competition encourages culinary artistry and that these new, original dishes “become a signature item in Benzie County.”

He added that there will be a second Green Plate Challenge in September, right after the first prize is awarded. He said that he hopes that the program will expand to other restaurants in Northwest Lower Michigan, and that he wants the Challenge to eventually grow into a very prestigious award.

Think of it: The Green Plate Challenge could eventually bring together more culinary talent and food artisans to create unique regional fare that is more available, truly making it easy to eat local.

And, speaking of challenges-I just got a really tough one from my editor: He’s making me visit each of these restaurants, try their green plate, and tell you what I think.

So stay tuned-there’s more of my delicious writing to come!

Karly Wentzloff is a summer intern at the Michigan Land Use Institute. Reach her at karly@mlui.org.

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