When chef Danny Ovanin sees a fruit or vegetable from local purveyors and farmer's markets, his culinary imagination runs wild—in an organic way, of course.
“I just wing it and create something,” said Ovanin, executive chef at Glen Ellyn’s , 1250 Roosevelt Rd. “I love making dishes, because I can be creative. I really enjoy it.”
For example, beets from a southwestern Illinois farm become roasted and dressed in a balsamic vinaigrette. Hormone-free lamb chops from the Delavan, Wis.-based Pinn-Oak Ridge Farm become an appetizer.
“Its availability was from week to week,” he said. “When we don’t have three to four racks of lamb that I can turn into an entree, I use it as an appetizer.”
Since opening three years ago, Glen Prairie’s sustainable farm-to-table approach to contemporary American cuisine has attracted diners with entrees containing local or organic ingredients and hormone-free meats. Its bar also offers a few organic wines and vodka. The restaurant also incorporates an environmental theme by using recycled materials in some furniture pieces and flooring and compostable containers.
Besides picking fresh items, there is another benefit. Restaurants such as this one can sustain a homegrown and regional economy by supporting Illinois and Midwest-based companies and small farmers.
“Having food from local farms is better than having your food sit on a truck shipped 2,500 miles cross-country,” Ovanin said. “You’re supporting the local economy when you buy from local farmers.”
Going local can encompass many physical areas. For his restaurant, Ovanin contacts farms and companies from Illinois and bordering states such as Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa and Missouri. His go-to sources include JDY Gourmet in Chicago and Becker Lane Organic Farms in Dyersville, Iowa.
One of the drawbacks is being at the mercy of what each season will yield.
“During the fall and winter months, our produce inventory really hurts,” he said. “We do get items from farms and produce companies and purveyors, but a lot of it is hard to come by. There’s not that many greenhouses. I do shop at Green City Market in Chicago which is indoor and outdoor.”
Spring and summer bring more with as they flourish with lamb, asparagus, blueberries, rhubarb and ramps, wild spring onions found in southern Illinois. He takes advantage of local farmer's markets in Glen Ellyn, Wheaton, Lombard and the Green City Market in Chicago.
As their meals arrive on their tables, the restaurant’s customers can experience its dining philosophy.
“Most people come in and appreciate the local aspect and the farm-to-table approach,” he said.
Sources such as Dietzler Farms, which provide the restaurant with hormone-free and antibiotic-free beef, is as local as one can get. While based in Elkhorn, Wis., the company’s family reside right in Glen Ellyn.
Michelle Dietzler, handles sales and distribution and is the daughter of owner Dan Dietzler. She knows Ovanin from seeing him at Wheaton and Glen Ellyn’s farmer's markets and personally delivering products a few years ago.
“Glen Prairie really has a commitment to sustainable, local farms,” she said. “It’s great to be able to see not only Dietzler Farms, but our friends such as Pinn-Oak Ridge Farms and Becker Lane Farms work with Ovanin. He uses the same types of farms, so he really is committed to the sustainability and the ideals of what our farm has.”
Sean Mahoney, a sales representative from Premier Produce in Franklin Park, supplies Ovanin with fresh produce. From his experience, he sees a trend of restaurants looking into purchasing local and sustainable products.
“If more places start to buy from us then the demand goes up and we can lower the prices,” Mahoney said. “It’s more of an eclectic thing right now. It’s going happen more and more (where restaurants will purchase local and sustainable foods). We’re seeing that a lot more than before.”