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FORAGING FOR FOOD

August 23, 2010

Johanna Kolodny brings the farm to the table
By Francine Cohen

Pop culture is full of references to people on a quest; there’s Don Quixote and that whole windmill thing, and we can’t forget Monty Python’s search for the Holy Grail. But in real life many of us are on a personal quest too; quests to live longer, happier, more productive lives, lose weight, succeed in new business ventures, not tumble down the slope the first time we try to ski. Johanna Kolodny, forager for Print restaurant at Kimpton’s Ink48 hotel in Manhattan (www.ink48.com), is one woman who has turned the quest for fresh food into a full time job.

Kolodny, who joined the restaurant as soon as it opened has an enviable job – she spends her days chatting up farmers and sharing their bounty with her chefs. She explains just what she does, “My official role title is forager. My job consists of seeking out farmers or artisans both in the region as well outside, when it comes to food items like citrus/dates things that don’t grow in our climate, and bringing their products into the chefs to see if they like them. Then establishing relationships with these farmers and artisans so that they can supply the restaurant.”

Working with individual farmers and purveyors means a lot of juggling for Kolodny. Sometimes it’s easier because they’ve already got a delivery schedule or work through distributors. Sometimes she starts from scratch. These relationships take a lot of work but Kolodny knows they are worth it. She often spends mornings at the greenmarket and regularly treks around the area during peak growing seasons to meet with the farmers on their own turf and discuss a mutually beneficial relationship. Kolodny goes out of her way for the farmers who go out of their way for her; she’s got a weekly standing date at a gas station in Westchester where she will rendezvous with an upstate farmer who’s happy to meet her halfway and also happy to bring the yogurt the restaurant likes that comes from a nearby farm.

Farm to table is a hot concept now and one that Kolodny embraces, both personally and on behalf of the restaurant. She explains, “It’s a tough role for me. My background is supporting farmers and making sure they get fair wages. My role here is to help the restaurant. My value system is not to gauge a farmer. I definitely ask the questions but definitely don’t guilt trip them. It’s definitely a fine line I’m walking between getting the best price for the restaurant and making sure farmers are making a living. It’s about attaining a balance between the restaurant and the farmer.”

Kolodny maintains that sense of balance in everything she does, including her personal life – a recent trip to the greenmarket found us trailing around after Kolodny as she chatted with farmers and chefs she encountered along the way, all the while introducing her mother whom she had deputized for this outing to the market; the two finding quality time to bond amongst the produce.

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