From Shared Obsession to Ultimate Dining Experience
Posted by: Rob Tamburello on April 18, 2012
Some of the Passionate Grove Staff
Grove has been open now for seven months and that begs for some reflection. When we first considered opening a new restaurant, about three years ago now, we had two things going for us: a vision that the best tasting food would spend the smallest amount of time in transit—so-called farm to table—and passion. Okay, maybe there was a third thing: Experience.
Earth to Table
Farm to Table (or as we call it at Grove, Earth to Table) was a concept that grew out of the realization that the food we eat travels an average of 2,000 miles to get to our plates. This is especially strange considering that this area of West Michigan is the second most bio-diverse area of the country, meaning we grow a greater variety of food than they do anywhere expect an area in Southern California. Not bad, considering our growing season is only half what theirs is.
While it’s a virtuous ideal to feed the local economy while feeding guests at your restaurant, I was especially concerned with what all that travel did to the flavor of the food. I read about a restaurant in Panama that feeds a tablespoon of wine to the chickens that are slated for the plate just before they are well, converted to food. This, in theory, made for what is widely considered the finest tasting chicken in the world. If this subtle change in the process could affect the taste of chicken so dramatically, then what would it do to pull as much of our food as possible from local farmers?
And then I read another article that cited how the content of carbon monoxide in foods gets higher and higher the farther they are shipped. (Maybe I should just stop reading.)
The final advantage to serving food that takes the most direct route from earth to table is that you actually get to know the farmers who produce the food. While working at The Green Well, we took the Cartel (our ambassador group) out to one of our farms, gave them a tour and then ate dinner in the farmer’s field. Call me crazy, but I think this relationship actually makes the food taste better.
“Passion” is probably one of the most overused and under-appreciated terms being used today and yet it’s my favorite answer to any number of questions: why am I in this business, why do I work with the people I work with, why is Grove different from any other restaurant? So, I thought, seven months into this fantastic experience of running Grove was probably a good time to finally explain what “passion” means to me.
Though passion is a kind of obsession, it’s far from being just a lonely obsession. Passion is more real and more acute if it’s shared. That’s why, when tasked with hiring the people to work with me at Grove, I chose very carefully. Our people share the same obsession for what is known in the biz as “high execution,” or what the Japanese call Kaizen, which basically means improving what you do every time you do it. I chose people that I knew, had worked with personally, or those I knew through their impeccable reputations.
Aside from being a shared obsession, passion needs to be backed by knowledge, and this is the big idea that’s come to me since opening Grove. I’ve come to realize that it’s relatively easy to find people who, to some extent or another, share an obsession—baseball fans, micro-brew drinkers, exercise enthusiasts, etc.—but it’s really hard to form a highly functioning group of people who share your obsession and have the smarts, the knowledge, to work that obsession on a daily basis in a way that makes your audience—your guests—crave more.
Of course, it would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to urge you to come into Grove and see how this Earth-to-Table concept and our Passion convert to what we like to call “the Ultimate Dining Experience.” If you’ve been to Grove before, come again and let us know how your experience over the last seven months has improved. Then please find me and let me know.
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