Meet Whitney Arris, Culinary Director, Co-Owner and mastermind behind The Preservery, a locally owned restaurant, bakery, market place and bar with a deep commitment to supporting good, clean and fair food.
Who or what inspired you to begin your journey in support of local food?
My parents were a huge influence on me when it comes to food. They were total hippies and lived like urban homesteaders when my brother and I were growing up! We grew tons of fruits and vegetables at our house and made pretty much all our food from scratch, including sourdough bread, pasta and ice cream. It wasn’t until I reached adulthood that I realized what a unique connection to food and food systems that type of upbringing had afforded me. It was also through my work at Whole Foods, where I got to connect directly with local farmers and food producers, that I developed a strong connection to the local food community. Getting to know farmers on a personal basis and seeing how incredibly hard they have to work and how many of them dedicate their entire lives to growing better food even though it will never make them rich, it built in me a strong desire to do whatever I could to help support and grow the local foods movement. Plus – food that is grown where you live, well just tastes better! I’m forever ruined on out-of-season store-bought plums because I grew up with ripe, super-juicy and ridiculously sweet Santa Rosa plums that we grew in our own backyard and I still have yet to find any plum that really matches that magical taste!
How does local food influence your menu?
Pretty heavily! Every week we look at the local produce availability from each of the local farms with whom we partner to see what’s newly available and in season. We often develop menu items in response to what is available locally. Right now, everybody has pea shoots in abundance so we incorporate them into several different items in the menu. It’s also the height of asparagus season, so we’re buying asparagus from Kiowa Valley and not only incorporating fresh asparagus into the menu but preserving batches of pickled asparagus to use throughout the year. Rhubarb has already made its way onto the dessert menu and next week we’re preserving rhubarb chutney and jam!
How does The Preservery build community around food?
Education and engagement are the key components. We are committed to seeking out and sourcing storied ingredients (as we like to refer to them) – products whose stories we know and are excited and enthusiastic to tell. We teach those stories to our staff who in turn tell the guests. Every time I set down a plate of our B.C.E. salad, I get to share the story about the eggs we use, which come from Ambrosia Farm in Bennett, CO. And right after they hear the compelling story, they get to taste the food! That, to me, is the perfect way to create connections – to build bridges through food, so to speak. To further promote engagement between the stories we want to share and our guests, we host educational events. For instance, we’re partnering with A.D. Laws to do a Whiskey and Chocolate tasting in which our guests will learn all about whiskey making and chocolate sourcing and why it is so important to know where your whiskey and your chocolate comes from! To us, it also means providing a healthy community internally by having equitable wages for our staff, providing our team members with full benefits and a shift meal every day.
Tell me one local food item you can’t live without?
It’s super hard to choose! I always wait with fervent anticipation for the first Colorado cherries, and I am totally obsessed with apple and squash in the fall when it comes into season. I especially love all the beautiful heirloom varieties of apples grown by Ela Family Farms and many others. Also, eggs are so incredibly useful and full of nutrition, I would find it very hard to live without them! Those who know me well know that I’m pretty obsessed with eggs and all their magical, delicious properties and practically infinite uses. Once I made the switch to buying only local eggs for myself I realized what a huge difference it makes, not only in taste but in how they behave in the kitchen.
Share one tip for someone who is interested in incorporating local food into their daily life.
Go to the farmers’ market! As often as you can!! More and more farmers’ markets are accepting SNAP benefits, making it easier for even those on a very tight food budget to buy healthy, local foods. Purchase seasonal produce when it’s abundant and preserve at home! Everybody should be canning cherries and pickling asparagus right now, all you need is clean jars and a very large pot and you have the availability to extend the life of your produce by a year or more. I think it’s really empowering to fill your pantry with home-canned food that you made yourself, and it really helps stretch each dollar you spend on food further because you never have to let anything go to waste.