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Posts Tagged ‘Farm to Table’

How Our Clients “Discover the Taste of Local” With Us

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

In most cases, we don’t know always know where the banana or tomato we purchased last week was grown. At our client tasting this past Wednesday, the theme focused on local and more specifically our farm to fork initiative and partnership with local farmers. Titled, “Discover the Taste of Local” our Executive Chef Craig Mason prepared dishes with local ingredients from Linda’s Farm and Mercantile in Winchester, Virginia, Blue Ridge Produce from Elkwood, VA and Profish out of Washington, D.C. Local wines and beers from Corcoran Vineyards made the perfect addition to each local dish. Check out the photos below:

Centerpieces featured muck boots with herbs from our herb garden

The backdrop was a video slideshow of Chef Mason with David Lay at Linda’s Farm and Mercantile

Being served the first course which included local tomatoes, corn and spinach leaves.

Our biggest turn out ever with over 80+ attendees proves how popular “local” is as a topic.

Local peaches for the dessert

Are there any topics you’d like to see at our future tastings?

Chefs Behind the Food: Does it make a difference?

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

Often, we visit restaurants because we’ve heard of the chef or about how tasty their plates are which essentially leads back to the chef behind it all. In the D.C. area especially, it seems what drives traffic to restaurants is the Chef’s name. As event professionals, food flexibility plays a large role but choosing a particular venue because of the chef is not always a top priority or option. If a restaurant, hotel, conference center, or venue allows you to interact with the chef whether it’s learning about him or a short conversation at your table – does this make a difference in your meal? How does knowing more about where your food came from and the chef behind the plate affect your dining experience?

We believe a if you can identify with where your food came from and the face behind the food- your dining experience will only improve. For social media users, Executive Chef Craig Mason is most likely a common name to you, but for our attendees not using social media or connected with us – they may not be aware of Chef Mason. Last week, we shared how we’re telling guests what products are local vs. non-local, explaining farm-to-table and sustainable seafood (Read article). Our new chef signs indicate who is preparing the day’s meal.

What do you think? Does interacting with a chef or knowing more about him/her enhance your dining experience? Are you more likely to appreciate your meal if you know where it comes from whether local or non-local?

How will you know what items are local vs. non-local?

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

If it’s local and part of our Farm-to-table program at The National Conference Center, how will you know? New signs in the dining room will explain farm-to-table and sustainable seafood to help our guests and your attendees understand these two initiatives. Another logo helps designate if the item is locally grown within 150 miles by the growing leaf titled “Locally Grown” with a yellow reach (click here to read about the reach). The last farm-to-table sign lists which local items to look for in the menu that week.

The LOCALLY GROWN LOGO helps guests understand what items were grown within 150 miles

who want to know the locally grown items to expect on the menu that week

Helping you to understand and appreciate initiatives like farm-to-table and sustainable seafood.

A long-term goal of NCC’s is to source 100% of our produce locally. However, in the meantime, we source as much as we can through local farms such as Linda’s Mercantile & Farm Market in Winchester Virginia, Blueridge Farms, Fruit Hill Orchards, and more. Overall, it can often be a difficult challenge to source all products locally, especially as a conference center that can serve up to 2,000 meals to guests and employees  in one day. If it isn’t local within 150 miles, our Executive Chef Craig Mason does his best to ensure it’s as local as it can be while also providing you with the most nutrients and brain food for your meetings! In your community or across the U.S., how have you found other venues such as restaurants or hotels communicate which items are local vs. non-local?

[VIDEO] Executive Chef Craig Mason covers trends in Conference Center Dining

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Yesterday, we recapped our May Soiree tasting with photos of the hors d’oeuvres, moments captured with clients and some of Executive Chef Craig Mason’s demo. But, a video always give Chef Mason’s cooking demonstrations more justice. Hear him talk about our farm-to-table initiative, sustainable seafood and watch him cook one of his personal favorite items – soft-shell crabs! Special thank  you to Jennifer Arezzo who beautifully told the story of farm-to-table, West Belmont Place and more in her news article for the Ashburn Patch.

[PHOTOS] Recap of Our May Soiree Tasting: Soft Shell Crabs & More

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Miss our May Soiree Tasting? The soirée was on the courtyard patio with special guests, Corcoran Vineyards and Sunset Hill Vineyards. We learned about the local Virginia wines while Executive Chef Craig Mason entertained everyone with a soft-shell crab cooking demonstration, an in-season specialty. Here are play-by-play pictures from the evening from guests to our Executive Chef Craig Mason to the local items on the menu. Watch out – these photos may initiate hunger:

BEAUTIFUL BOUQUET from Country Way in Middleburg, VA

Strawberries, feta cheese, kalamata olives and cucumbers drizzled with a balsamic reduction

Served with purple basil and a lemon vinaigrette

served on a savory tart

on a sweet potato biscuit

KURT KRAUSE, our General Manager entertaining clients

BLUE HAWAIIAN Malibu, pineapple juice, blue curacao
MINT JULEP Bourbon marinated in mint with brown sugar and mint simple syrup

Local cheese such as MARYLAND GOAT CHEESE from FireFly Farms

discuss their game plan for the soft shell crab demonstration

EXECUTIVE CHEF CRAIG MASON takes a quick break from preparation

SOFT SHELL CRAB Deep fried with Southern remoulade

EXECUTIVE CHEF CRAIG MASON AND WILLY turn up the heat at our tasting

LORI from CORCORAN VINEYARD explains her winecork ring

Pesto marinated lamb chop lollipops, mint accented mango chutney

GREAT WEATHER on the courtyard patio made for a lovely reception

ENJOYING SOFT SHELL CRABS made three ways by Executive Chef Craig Mason

PHOTOS by Dawn Dinius on the NCC team

Planners meeting the demand for LOCAL foods

Friday, May 13th, 2011

We’ve jumped on the farm-to-fork bandwagon to serve fresh local ingredients in our dining room. At NCC, we do it to be sustainable and support the local agriculture, but is there really a demand for it? We’re starting to see an increase in planners requesting local ingredients, whether their personal preference or to meet the client’s demand. In events, private receptions, weddings, fundraisers and at our own tastings at NCC – you can see local ingredients are breaking their way through hotels and restaurants and into the preferences of individuals and groups. Here are some dishes where planners had to meet the demand for LOCAL foods:

Virginia Apple Tart with local ingredients by Executive Chef Craig Mason [March Tasting]

Local asparagus wrapped in Virginia honey-baked ham [Private Banquet at NCC]

Virginia Wines served for a private banquet -  (Name all 10 on NCC’s Facebook fanpage).

NYC Maritime Hotels sells Martin’s Pretzels made locally rather than M&M’s [Photo Credit: USA Today Travel]

A wedding that featured entrees all made from local and organic ingredients [Photo Credit: Wedding Bee]

A fundraising picnic that used local fruit and forks made from potato starch.

The water cup and utensil were 100% biodegradable. [Photo Credit: Simply Blue Weddings]

Wedding with local roasted beets, aged goat cheese, kumquats, mache and sesame. [Photo Credit: Simply Blue Weddings]

Seared Shrimp Crusted Chesapeake Rockfish by Executive Chef Craig Mason [March Tasting]

What have you done to bring local into your events and meet the demands of your clients? How difficult was it to incorporate the local produce, meats or ingredients? Was the entire dish 100% local?

Herb Garden at NCC

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Clearing out the shrubbery on Friday for newly planted herbs

To be sustainable and offer a farm-to-table aspect, hotels and restaurants are beginning to grow their own herbs and the occasional tomato on their rooftop (and side lots). However, for venues that have a heavy amount of foot-traffic throughout the year, you practically need a farm to devote acres of land to producing 1,000+ lbs of local items on a weekly basis – (which is where Linda’s Mercantile & Farm Market comes into play).

For quite some time, planting an herb garden has been a topic of discussion at The National Conference Center. And, the dream finally became a reality last Friday as Joseph Lane (our Director of Food & Beverage Outlets) and Adam Hughes (our Banquets & Bar Manager) took a change of clothes and shovel to the site of a new herb garden located on property. For seven hours, the two dug up old shrubs, replanted them to give them a new home and made room for herbs to be planted.

Over the next few weeks, a previous area of shrubbery will become a community garden for employees who want to take part in planting our herbs. With recycled materials such as wooden beams and railroad ties, we’ll build a foundation for a variety of herbs such as basil, mint, thyme, rosemary and more. Does local make a difference to you in your meals or dining experience?

The crew also found duck eggs but no mama duck, they were left unstartled.

A Farm That “Gets It”

Friday, April 29th, 2011

We can’t praise Linda’s Mercantile & Farm Market enough. In December, The National Conference Center held a Farmers Forum in which over 50 farmers from VA, WV, and MD attended. Panelists included Matt Lohr – Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture, Kurt Krause General Manager of  The National Conference Center, Christopher Carpenter of Washington & Lee, Derek Kilmer of Kilmer’s Farm Market, and Emily Manley of The Local Food Hub.

After the forum, the one farm who contacted NCC about providing us with fresh local goods – Linda’s Mercantile. Check out the timeline of our relationship with David and Linda Lay, the couple behind Linda’s Mercantile & Farm Market from December 2010 – Present. This farm “gets it.” They reached out to Kurt Krause and Executive Chef Craig Mason, eager to assist us with our farm-to-fork initiative; an initiative that is important to us in order to support regional agricultural and offer our guests fresh sustainable produce with a high nutritional value to enhance their meeting experience and cognitive ability (Read more). Not only did they begin providing us with canola oil which is recycled into bio-diesel fuel for tractors, plows and more but they created a partnership to make this program successful (with Shenandoah Agricultural Products and Fruit Hill Orchards).

What started as canola oil and a shipment of spinach grew into providing our guests with local hot house tomatoes, arugula, mushrooms, and strawberries. In less than two months, Linda’s Mercantile has planted several more acres of produce. On Monday of next week, we’ll greet a shipment of 2,000 lbs of local produce.  What are we expecting?

spinach – 300 pounds
corn – 100 pounds
zucchini – 200 pounds
cabbage – 40 pounds
red bliss potatoes – 150 pounds
white creamer potatoes – 150 pounds
mescalin greens – 300 pounds
leaf lettuce – 100 pounds
cucumbers – 200 pounds
tomatoes – 200 pounds
basil – 20 pounds
strawberries – 250 pounds
raspberries – 125 pounds
blackberries – 125 pounds

Linda and David Lay of Linda’s Mercantile also “get” social media – they see the value in it and have created a community of avid locavores on their Facebook Fan Page. Watch the Backstage Pass of the farm from their YouTube channel:

Announcing a ‘Green Meetings’ Section on Our Website

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

We’re excited to announce the launch of the green meetings section on our website.  In this section, we’ll share ways we’re going green and available eco-friendly meeting amenities. The different green directories include hospitality services and guest rooms, conference facilities and services, dining and catering, general building policies, and gardens and grounds.  You’ll learn about our low-flow sinks to fair-trade coffee products and the use of mulch for landscaping. To join our database and receive e-mail offers from The National Conference Center, sign-up for our e-mail offers here.

Have you seen Kurt Krause’s platform on being green at NCC? Watch the YouTube video.

[VIDEO] Local farmer provides NCC with produce

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

In the beginning, farm-to-table at NCC was only a dream of Kurt Krause’s. Kurt Krause, our General Manager is an avid fan of locavore dining, farm-to-fork, food-for-thought, and creating a partnership between farms and local vendors such as universities, schools, restaurants, and other campus-settings like The National Conference Center.



  • In December, NCC hosted the Virginia Farmers’ Forum for Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland farmers. Panelists such as Matt Lohr – Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture, Kurt Krause of The National Conference Center, Christopher Carpenter of Washington & Lee, Derek Kilmer of Kilmer’s Farm Market, and Emily Manley of The Local Food Hub discussed the possibility of a partnership. (Summary of the Farmers Forum)
  • Kurt explained his dream of providing local fresh food to guests, but the needs of the conference center will require help from the farmers, such as 1 ton of potatoes on a budget.
  • He explained his second dream: On the weekend, one 800 space parking lot at the conference center sits empty. Can this parking lot be the granddaddy of farmers markets? It would prevent farmers in WV, Loudoun County, and other nearby counties from traveling to D.C. every weekend. Farmers like this idea as time is one of the most valuable things to them!

MARCH 2011 -

  • Linda’s Mercantile & Farm Market approached Kurt about supplying fryer oil to the conference center and possibly produce.
  • We switched to Linda’s Mercantile (LM) for our canola oil – a beneficial repeating cycle that helps us give back the most we can to Mother Nature. Read about how the canola has a 3-part lifetime cycle with our partnership with Linda’s Mercantile and Shenandoah Agricultural Products.

APRIL 2011 -

  • Linda’s Mercantile agrees to grow local produce to supply the large demands of a conference center, which in turn supports their farm. LM has also planted extra fields of broccoli and other produce to provide us with local goods on a regular basis.
  • Executive Chef Craig Mason accepts the first shipment of local produce from Linda’s Mercantile & Farm Market. The items included mushrooms, cucumbers, strawberries, hot house tomatoes, honey, arugula, and spinach.  To watch Executive Chef Craig Mason with David Lay, farmer of Linda’s Mercantile see the YouTube video below: