Wilmington native Dan Sheridan has been the executive chef at Cantwell's Tavern in Odessa since the restaurant opened in late 2011. This week, he talked to us about the importance he places on using locally-grown and raised ingredients in his dishes.
Q Why is the farm-to-table movement important to you?
A It has always been the policy of the most influential restaurants to source good local ingredients. I believe it is important because it helps local farmers and small businesses of the area, as well as educates people about what their area can offer as far as produce and livestock. Diners can learn about what their area does well, as far as farming, and they can embrace that and feel proud of the area and their farmers. It also raises the standards of what goes to the table, as far as the care that it takes to prepare the final dishes from the second the produce shows up at our back door, to the prep and execution. Chefs start wanting to really highlight the characteristics of what the farmers bring us and that translates to techniques that really lets the freshness and flavors get to the diners.
Q What products do you buy locally and from where?
A We use farms like Heritage Oak Farm (in Smyrna) and Crow Farms in Maryland to supply our beef. Willey Farms (in Townsend) has been a big help in getting produce to us from surrounding farms. Bayberry Farms (in Middletown) is another local farm with great produce that we like using. Woods Edge Farm (in Greenwood) supplies all of our fresh thyme, rosemary and parsley, as well as the more exotic herbs we play around with, like hot and spicy oregano and different varieties of basil. Produce from Priapi Farms in Cecilton, Md., also has been a huge part of our menus. We also use larger companies, like Hy-Point Dairy, which is based in Delaware, for our dairy products.
Q What are some of your more popular dishes that feature local ingredients?
A We use beef from Heritage Oak Farm in our new homestyle meatloaf dish, which is pretty popular. Who doesn't like a good meatloaf? Our farmhouse burgers use beef from Crow Farms and farm-fresh eggs whenever we can get them. Our new roasted chicken dish is a great straight-forward summer dish that uses Amish chickens, corn, tomatoes and arugula from local farms. The beet salad also uses nice arugula and beets from area farms, as well as local mint in the champagne-mint vinaigrette. Some of our side dishes, like the mushrooms, also come from farms that deal with Priapi Farms. We always try and have a Maryland or Virginia oyster on the menu, as well, and we go through oysters by the case loads every week.
Q How do you think serving locally-grown produce and locally-raised livestock benefits your customer?
A I think the biggest benefit is overall freshness and handling. It starts with farmers who love what they pull out of the ground and then comes to Cantwell’s Tavern, where we love what we’re cooking. That translates into more love on the plate for the customers. Chefs get more excited when the farmers tell us how much time and effort they spent getting those ingredients just right. There is more care given to a product when it is handed to you by the farmer who just spent that morning pulling your order out of the ground. That definitely gets passed on to the final product.