TRANSPARENCY, education and hospitality all come together to form the guiding mission behind the new 18,000 sq. ft. dining and conference facility that is going up at Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks, Ind.
Fair Oaks Farms is committed to educating the public about modern farming efforts and also to protecting the environment, caring for the animals and ensuring the highest-quality products possible.
When it opens this July, The Farmhouse Restaurant at Fair Oaks Farms will provide guests with a one-of-a-kind opportunity not only to see how and where their food is produced but also to see it being prepared and then enjoy it on their plates.
"We are truly striving to provide a farm-to-table experience like no other," Carl Bruggemeier, the creator and managing partner of the restaurant, told Feedstuffs in a private tour last month.
Bruggemeier, who started in the culinary world as a meat cutter, has more than 35 years of management experience, primarily in the hospitality industry.
He has brought more than 50 restaurants and retail stores to life. In the past, when he opened a new establishment, Bruggemeier said he ran it for a year or so and then turned it over to others.
The Farmhouse, though, is a bit different in that he is a vested partner and plans to personally stay involved with the restaurant long term.
Enthusiastic about the possibilities Fair Oaks Farms offers — from exposure to the farm's visitors and those traveling on Interstate 65 between Chicago, Ind., and Indianapolis, Ind. — Bruggemeier is particularly keen to be able to share the complete farm-to-food story.
He said that is definitely something he very much believes in, but he also is frustrated by the misleading use of the farm-to-table term in culinary circles. Too many restaurants tout their fare as being "local," but dig a little deeper, and sometimes it turns out that it means nothing more than having a lady down the block deliver a handful of garden-grown herbs each morning.
"They find one or two producers of local product and then go to the public and claim, 'Our restaurant is farm to table.' Those who come to our table will know for certain just where the food they are being served came from," he said of The Farmhouse.
Nonetheless, Bruggemeier realizes that seasonality and geography can create some limitations. He also realizes that it will take time to ramp up his overall commitment to locally produced foods. Ultimately, he said he wants 80% of the food served at The Farmhouse, as well as the 3,000 sq. ft. bakery and farmers market nearby, to be sourced locally.
Bruggemeier and his team will visit all of their suppliers on a regular basis. "We won't serve a product we don't know everything about," he said, noting that he has absolutely no concerns over how food is produced today or its safety.
Guests at The Farmhouse also will be able to watch first-hand as their food is prepared. The kitchen has been designed specifically with a wall of glass that opens to the dining area. Tours of the kitchen will be available before 11 a.m. and between 3 and 5 p.m. each day for small groups of 10 or so.
Those seated in the chef's dining room during meal hours will be able to go into the kitchen during the preparation of their meal. Bruggemeier said he expects that The Farmhouse will employ 35 culinary specialists, not counting servers and others.
"Our kitchen is our stage. Our chefs are the actors. Our diners are our audience. Each day, we will have a matinee and dinner show," Bruggemeier said.
On the back of every menu at The Farmhouse will be "the story."
"We just believe in transparency to the extreme," Bruggemeier said, and part of what we want to achieve is to educate along the way and hopefully change the perception consumers have of the modern food system.
He added that he wants guests to come to the farm to learn about food production, visit The Farmhouse to consume a meal and then visit the combined bakery and farmers market to take the experience home with them.
"See it. Taste it. Take it home. It is an experience that doesn't exist anywhere else," Bruggemeier said.