Farmers work long days and chefs can easily clock 80 hours a week. Imagine being chef who farms.
That’s reality for Daniel Marquis. He’s the executive chef at Quay in Chicago, and he farms 20 acres in Sheffield, Illinois.
Rain Rain Go Away
This self-proclaimed workaholic can be hard to get in touch with. We were supposed to chat on the phone a week earlier, but he was stuck doing damage control on the farm. Thanks to heavy rains earlier this month, the creek that splits the property in half flooded the fields. “Most of the time it goes down pretty quick, but this last week down here, it’s been raining and raining and raining,” he adds.
This year’s weather couldn’t be more different from last year.
“Last year we probably spent half our time watering and setting up irrigation,” he says. This year, thanks to all the rain, he’s spending much of his time weeding.
He comes by farming honestly — Mill Road Farm has been in his family for four generations. Since everything on this organic farm is done by hand, he recruits the help of some of his restaurant workers on their days off to come down and pick weeds.
The group effort seems to be paying. This is the second year he’s grown food to serve in the restaurant, and he’s anticipating a tenfold increase in production over last year.
Chef Hat, Farmer Boots
Marquis is taking the idea of farm-to-table to the next level. For him, seed-to-plate is the most intimate connection you can have with your food. Although, since he’s nurtured the food from the very beginning, it’s almost more of a burden, “Because if somebody burns it or overcooks it, it makes me that much more crazy about my product.”
His chef sensibilities come out on the farm when he determines what to plant. Much of what he grows isn’t available through the large distribution companies, like three different varieties of kale.
That, and his products are just fresher. “They provide heirloom tomatoes, but I can assure you that the heirloom tomatoes they’re getting are nothing like the ones we grow here,” he says. Once he picks the tomatoes, they are a two-hour drive away from being served in the restaurant later that day.
It takes a lot of time and energy to live the seed to plate lifestyle, but Marquis says, “It seems perfectly logical for me.”