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In traditional speed dating, a bunch of strangers looking for love meet in a location prearranged by some service (presumably run by the dark lord himself, if you’ve ever been to romantically oriented speed dating). But unlike the State of the Union there were no dry speeches, only cold beer, fingers flying over smartphones, and speed dating. Hopefully at least one toque was hidden in an undisclosed location to keep Washington’s restaurant world alive in case something happened to us. The area’s best chefs from haute spots like the Inn at Little Washington, 1789, and local-chain-turned-national sweetgreen squeezed in to one location along with the region’s top farmers and food artisans.—a bell rings and everyone must move on to the next person. Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture in Alexandria, Virginia, is preparing for its second Farmer-Chef Speed Dating session this fall, after a wildly successful first meeting.
Speed dating fits a picky crowd short on time, working crazy hours, and with very specific desires and needs who can’t waste time talking to the wrong person. Upon arrival at local restaurant Birch and Barley, 75 toques and purveyors each received about a half dozen matches based on questionnaires they filled out plus a nametag with icons developed by local-agriculture specialists Greenease representing the items they were buying or selling, from microgreens to chickens to cheese.
Arcadia provided the all-important beer and technology–#Farmer Chef2014.
The hashtag made it possible for farmers and chefs to tweet in advance about the event to notify potential business partners of their attendance, be aware of who was in the room during the event, and connect with an elusive contact in person—all of which will become even more important as the event grows bigger.
Even with technology and exponentially multiplying websites attempting to connect farmers with buyers, getting everyone in a room at a set time and location is vital for independent chefs and small farmers, as both groups work with small margins in risky businesses with passionate personalities and unreliable schedules.
Popular demand for farm-to-fork restaurant meals puts a huge strain on both chefs and local farmers, who are chained to their work locations—you gotta cook and you gotta farm.
Good chefs desperately want to use the best product, which is almost always local because it’s fresher and hasn’t traveled as far (I know what I would look like after traveling 3,000 miles by truck).