The symbiotic relationship between a chef and a farmer

by | Apr 16, 2021

Every Friday on social media, we post a Farm Feature Friday showcasing one of our dedicated North Carolina farmers. Anna and Paul Littman, with Ivy Creek Farm, are two of those farmers and they help drive innovation and inspire eating local with their friend and chef, Richard Gras. The #FarmFeatureFriday campaign will run through December 2021 on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Be sure to tune in each Friday afternoon on social and help show your support for our local farmers!

The farm-to-table movement is growing more popular by the day, and this partnership is one to talk about. Meet Anna and Paul Littman from Ivy Creek Family Farm in Bernardsville and Richard Gras, Executive Chef at The Cliffs in South Carolina.

Anna and Paul have been farming a variety of vegetables at their farm since its conception in 2008. Richard Gras has recently joined the team at the Cliffs. Prior to his time there, he worked as Executive Chef at The Omni Grove Park Inn, managing all restaurants in the sammon wing. Richard, Anna and Paul have come together in an amazing partnership to showcase the true importance of eating local.

Anna and Paul both grew up with a love and passion for gardening but never considered it as a career until 12 years ago when a neighbor offered them a quarter of an acre to start a garden. “What started as drive and passion funneled into a love of food and community,” Anna said, “I always knew that gardening would be a part of my life but seeing the community come together to help and support us has been amazing.” Now intensely farming 6 acres, Ivy Creek Family Farm grows a variety of fruits and vegetables, including mushrooms, okra, pole beans, edible flowers and herbs. Although they are not certified organic, they do believe that sustainable agriculture is part of environmental stewardship and ensure a quality product by farming the soil as much as they farm the vegetables.

A typical day at Ivy Creek Family Farm starts with a farm crew meeting to establish the plan for the day. “From there we divide into teams and gather the tools for harvest,” Paul says, “then we harvest based on the crops needed for that day.” The remainder of the afternoon is used to process the vegetables and ship them out.

Ivy Creek Family Farm is unique because they only harvest what is needed to fill orders each day. “We work with urgency in our hands and quality in our minds,” Anna said. The quality and freshness of produce from the Littman’s farm is what inspires and influences the culinary talents of Chef Richard Gras in the kitchen.

Richard Gras was a chef at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company in Charlotte for 15 years before moving to the Omni Grove Park Inn to further express his own unique style. He worked for the Omni Grove Park for about two years before he joined the team at the Cliffs in South Carolina. In 2019, he was also a finalist in the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association – NCRLA Chef Showdown series.

Richard’s day starts early at 6:30 every morning as he walks through the kitchen to check for cleanliness. After speaking with the cooks and developing a plan for the day, he spends his day drafting menus, establishing pricing, tasting food, managing staff and training new employees.

After serving 27 years in the industry, Richard says that the life of a chef is a journey that is both a pursuit of passion and perfection. He enjoys using local products because they help tell the story of North Carolina. “Chefs are story tellers and in our line of work quality is king,” he says, “Ivy Creek Family Farm provides fresh, authentic product and, by using products from local farmers like them, I am able to drive the seasonality of Western N.C. through the dishes I serve.” “The relationship between a chef and a farmer is incredibly important for the viability and vitality of small farms,” Anna says. Through working together, Richard, Paul and Anna spread the message and importance of eating local.

The relationship between the two is symbiotic; Richard inspires Anna and Paul to grow the best products possible and they inspire Richard to create a story telling menu that showcases their passion and pride. “It all starts by creating a society that we believe in,” Richard says, “and I believe in sourcing and showcasing high quality, local products from farmers like Anna and Paul.”