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G-Sync: TWY City (Take With You, New DIY)

The holidays are a great time to visit family and friends. Lifestyle Editor Tommy Allen suggests instead of bringing to the table those oft-putting "spicy dishes" of religion and politics, try adding a TWY (Take With You) conversation starter.
For our local food movement to work, we need an informed and active citizenry from our region to tap into the many products being manufactured here.

While not all products can be manufactured or grown in our climate, many which can be farmed and produced here are often sought after by locals as well as food lovers from outside the region.

In the coming weeks of holiday celebrations, you will have a unique opportunity to showcase the bounty of our region with friends and family. So why not toss a few local products in the mix to steer the conversation away from the forbidden topics of politics, religion, or your sister’s deadbeat husband?

From hotel to home

Many years ago, the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel’s Executive Chef Josef Huber and Chef Joshua Braal Ganzevoort decided to create a new line of products for people to purchase and take with them after their stay.

Typically, this type of food marketing elicits internal eye rolling. One imagines being gifted with a bottled food product, often procured from a gift shop while the person is waiting for a valet to bring around the car. Here's the difference: The newly repackaged The Hotel Kitchen line is presented by Amway Grand Plaza Hotel with classic favorites and newer flavors. Both offerings support a diverse palette with endless pairing possibilities. These products also reflect the hotel’s commitment to sourcing many of their ingredients grown in our region.

“One of the things I enjoy about being a chef at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel is our commitment to producing meals that are sourced from our local farms so that we are able to provide the freshest ingredients in our menu items,” says Chef Joshua Ganzevoort. Chef Ganzevoort is a Toronto native who is celebrating 16 years with the hotel this year.

“Our Hotel Kitchen product line, in new earth-friendlier packaging, not only features time-tested and heirloom recipes like our Sweet & Hot Mustard passed down to Chef Hubers through generations with hints of apple and maple,” says Ganzevoort, “but with the addition of new flavors that are responding to the expanding international tastes of our culture, the newer products are bringing curry and chipotle and a Chef’s Smoker Barbecue to the forefront of the ingredient list.”

The Hotel Kitchen is not trying to be cool for cool’s sake but are in fact very aware of a culture of change in our tastes. They see this as being socially responsible in their presentation of these flavors as the West Michigan cultural makeup is shifting to a more international destination for travelers -- and those calling this region their new home.

The new packaging means that the product has to be consumed sooner as a result. But when it is as good as it is, this is not a problem. I went through two jars of the Michigan Summer Chutney (cherry and jalapeño) in no time at all during a recent dinner party. We spooned it over fresh soft goat’s cheese and toasted bread sourced locally.

While I tested other products from the Hotel Kitchen, I was especially drawn to the nicely balanced selection of ketchups. Each was delicious on roasted potatoes, a nice alternative to the fried variety. The Thai Curry Ketchup took it to a brand new level as the spice nicely settled into the creamy and steamy core of the russets.

The cheese stands alone

Two other unique West Michigan products to consider go great together or stand simply on their own.  

When Dancing Goat Creamery arrived on the scene, it was a quiet but decadent force within our local food movement. In 2008 Dancing Goat won the silver medal/2nd place in the "fresh farmstead cheese" category for its chevre at the prestigious American Cheese Society competition in Chicago.  

Fast forward to the present day: New owner Veronica Phelps has not only relocated the brand from Byron Center to a new facility on the Lubber’s Farm but has expanded the line to include a lovely array of farm fresh cheeses, ensuring a sustainable and diverse selection.

We are nearing the end of the goat cheese season since natural farming means that Phelps honors the period of rest goats need after a lengthy period of lactation. She will not artificially trick their bodies into producing year round.

Phelps instead chooses to focus on her other cheese, which is made from cow’s milk sourced from another local farm, Grassfield’s Farm. The organic milk is from cows raised on grass, not corn.

“The result of using a grass-fed milk is that not only does the cheese have a delightful earthy flavor but also has a buttery yellow color that is unlike other cheeses,” says Phelps. “I’ll miss making our ash ripened goat cheese that has a lovely bloomy rind that gets creamier with age, but with the expansion of our other popular cow milk cheeses like our Effie Mills or our farm fresh cream cheese, people will not mind the time off from our chevre.”

And she is not kidding. I let the Effie Mills come to room temperature and spread this creamy, camembert-style cheese on a nice slice of a farm-fresh Michigan pear and combined it with a toasted thick slice of bread from Field & Fire – one of the many artisanal shops at the new Downtown Market. It was simply a treat in this combination.

Heritage grains sustain

After a few months of sampling Field & Fire’s breads at various events, it was such a pleasure to meet owner and baker Shelby Kibler. He took time over the last weekend to share a bit about his bread that should have the new downtown Panera and other chain bakeries worried. I dare you to take one bite of Kibler’s breads and not think immediately that this addition to the West Michigan food chain will send all the other bakers back to the drawing board.

Not only are these breads based on historical recipes that have sustained mankind for centuries, but the ingredients are sourced from organic, heritage grains, reminding us that the process by which these baked goods are created is equally as important to our health as individuals and a community.

The lengthy (but worth it) process for the Levain, their signature loaf, removes much of the gluten in the three-day process. Field & Fire often uses the same process for all their baked goods. Simply put, you cannot rush quality and it shows from the moment you see Field & Fire’s loaves.

Levain is a baking term often associated with the starter needed to produce a great sourdough loaf. In this case, Kibler’s starter (or chief) is one that he began for his family while he was still being mentored at Ann Arbor’s iconic Zingerman’s.

“We created our Levain for us to enjoy in our home, so it is exciting to be able to share it now with West Michigan’s residents who really love this loaf,” says Shelby. “We have added a few other breads as well that are worth considering for their taste but also health benefits.”

I joke with Shelby that bread has hardly been equated with health, according to diet doctors like Dr. Atkins. He wasn’t laughing as he explained his bread, because of the process, actually removes the things often not able to be removed because the factory bread products choose speed over the time-tested process of baking a heritage loaf.

Already West Michigan has been lining up to secure a loaf, which, according to Field & Fire, include these local favorite loaves: Levain, Walnut Levain, Sunflower Flax, Spelt and the “best French Baguette in the city,” according to Kibler.

Delicious development one stomach at a time

I had scheduled this story months ago. It not only piggybacks on last week’s breaking look at the Kent County Farmland Preservation program that could be eliminated from the 2014 budget, thus ending the program, but also showcases once again the industry seeing tremendous gains in our region: our growing, small business-driven agribusiness.

“In 2012, Michigan witnessed 19 billion dollars of business being generated out of this region,” says Chef Ganzevoort.

If we want to encourage new entrepreneurs from the local farm-to-table marketplace to bring new products forward, then we have to provide abundant resources at levels that help them retain their competitive edge over other markets and product developers who may not be as concerned about quality.  

These products, along with all the ones that source the very best ingredients from our region are changing our lives in West Michigan one ingredient at a time. And when we take them with us on the road to share with those outside the region this holiday season, they help shape the opinion of who we are, one stomach at a time.

The Future Needs All of Us.

Tommy Allen
Lifestyle Editor

Plan your weekend wisely. Start with G-Sync Events: Let’s Do This!

Editor's Note: Sourcing Products in this Editorial

The Hotel Kitchen can be purchased at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel or at area small businesses like Art of the Table or this weekend at the International Wine, Beer & Food Festival.

Dancing Goat Creamery’s cheeses can be found at Nourish and Martha’s Vineyard as well at the Knapp and East Beltline D&W grocery store. Chevre hint: This D&W store is the only store you will be able to find goat cheese products after Thanksgiving as Dancing Goat Creamery’s last of this very seasonal product has been secured for this location. Get it while it lasts.

Field & Fire breads are popping up on menus all over town including Grove and The Green Well, but to see the entire line, which includes croissants and breads as well as the newest addition, pizza, you will want to visit their brand new bakery in the Grand Rapids Downtown Market.

All Photography: ©Tommy Allen of Allen + Pfleghaar Studio at Tanglefoot, 2013.
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