Fresh and local

MARQUETTE – Andrew Sear, Marquette resident of 10 years, opened Paladino’s Cafe in the basement of the Peter White Public Library at the end of May, but he said he’s been testing recipes and shaping his vision for years.

The cafe specializes in serving local, sustainable and fresh ingredients, with an eye toward upholding the values of the “farm-to-table” food movement.

“If it’s not local, it needs to be sustainable and from there, it needs to be fresh,” Sear said.

His menu includes soups, sandwiches, salads and more, almost all cooked from scratch by his kitchen or select local business.

The farm-to-table food movement is concerned with strengthening small farms and agricultural practices, producing food locally and delivering that food to local consumers.

“What I care about is – how passionate is the farmer? How much do they care about the product they’re selling?” Sear said. “It’s drastically important.”

Paladino’s Cafe is certainly not the first restaurant in Marquette to emphasize sourcing locally. The Sweetwater Cafe and Bakery, established in 1993, always has. Babycakes Muffin Co., began in 1988, and Doncker’s restaurant, in 1896, also feature local ingredients. More recently, Das Steinhaus, which opened in August 2013 and this year, Ron’s Taco Shop, are a couple more restaurants that specialize in local food as well.

Sear, 30, said he sees a lot of enthusiasm among his peers.

“There are people our age who really care about this food thing, and are jumping into this all-hands-on-deck,” he said. “So it’s gaining momentum.”

Sear has worked in food service since the age of 16. He graduated from Northern Michigan University’s hospitality management program and is now an adjunct professor in the program and finishing his master’s degree in training, development and human performance improvement.

His restaurant is not just about the ingredients, he said. It’s about the conversations and relationships he builds with his customers, employees and more than 20 food vendors

“The advantage, right off the bat, (of building those relationships) is making friends,” Sear said. “Advantage number two is you’re going to be able to clarify what type of products you want and have an on-going dialogue about it.”

Marquette resident Cindy Dagenais and Judy Mauser of Chocolay Township enjoyed their first meal from Paladino’s Cafe on Tuesday.

“I love it,” Dagenais said. “They were very responsive. He let me taste the soup as a sample, and this soup is phenomenal.”

Mauser agreed.

“So much flavor,” she said. “I’ll be back.”

Some challenges for Sear include seasonal product availabilty and the paperwork involved in working with so many vendors, he said. But the ties he’s made are more than worth it to him.

“At the end of the day, part of our mission statement is that we want to impact lives,” Sear said.

And that impact he hopes to extend, not just to customers, but the entire community and its food system, he said. According to scientific consensus, a changing climate will likely put existing national systems – which rely heavily on the agricultural practice of monoculture and oil-fueled transportation – in jeopardy.

The 2013 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states there have already been significant negative impacts on food production, and, “All aspects of food security are potentially affected by climate change, including food access, utilization, and price stability.”

“It’s pretty scary when you think about it in that context,” Sear said. “So say, for some reason…trucks from Wisconsin or Texas can’t make it to market; what do we do?…Do we not want to proactively fix this issue?”

He sees a need for more than just hoop houses, which are great for extending the short Upper Peninsula growing season, but also greenhouses and the application of burgeoning technologies like solar energy and hydroponics, a method of growing that uses mineral nutrient solutions in water without soil.

“You can call these hippie, idealistic things all you want, but what other solution would we have to the problem?” he asked. “Canada’s already doing it. They have a longer winter than we do, but they’re growing heirloom tomatoes hydroponically.”

Building up the local food system is also his motivation for another goal – expanding his business to create a larger restaurant and community kitchen in downtown Ishpeming.

He said the kitchen would provide a shared space where farmers could add value to their proteins and vegetables, making them less expensive by preserving them on site, instead of paying someone else to do it or paying to rent the space.

Sear has a framed quote hanging on the wall in his cafe by Rene Redzepi, a Danish chef who has four times won “Best Restaurant in the World” and was listed in 2012 as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.

It reads, “There is no conflict between a better meal and a better world.”

Other places in the world don’t call it farm-to-table, Sear said, “It’s just the way they live.”

Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is mwardell@miningjournal.net.