Farmers meet chefs in demo dinner

In an effort to promote sustainable agriculture and increase the amount of productive farmland on Whidbey Island, Chef Matt Costello and other restaurateurs are teaming up with farmers to create new markets for their products.

Costello, an award-winning chef, is hosting a Producers’ Dinner on Monday, June 26, at his Chef’s Kitchen Restaurant at The Inn at Langley, a highly acclaimed inn located at 400 First Street. He and other island chefs will use locally raised farm products to prepare dinner for some two dozen island farmers.

“The dinner is a testing ground of sorts for a new business called WhidbeyFarm2Chef, which island entrepreneur Vito Zingarelli is launching,” Costello said in a news release.

WhidbeyFarm2Chef aims to connect chefs on the island and elsewhere with a cornucopia of freshly harvested agricultural products from a myriad of Whidbey Island producers. According to Zingarelli, initially only fruits and vegetables would be offered through the clearinghouse exchange, but the plan is to expand to promote Whidbey Island-raised meat and other produced and foraged products.

Costello, whose culinary skills have attracted international attention, already uses mostly local seafood, meats, cheeses and produce in preparing elaborate six-course dinners at The Inn at Langley’s Chef’s Kitchen Restaurant.

“It’s about the whole circle of where food comes from,” says Costello, who has received numerous honors, including being named Best Chef in Seattle by Seattle Magazine in 1998. “There are a lot of different foods that you don’t realize are grown right here.”

Zingarelli, who has called Whidbey Island home for nearly 15 years, said he has watched the amount of farmland in the area dwindle considerably.

In 1997, Island County was home to 389 farms totaling 19,408 acres, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In five years, the number of farms decreased 11 percent to 348, and the total acreage dedicated to agriculture declined by 23 percent to 15,018 acres.

“That’s alarming,” says Zingarelli, who notes that the rural character of the island is what attracts residents and visitors alike. To reverse the trend, farmers need to have a sustainable reason to continue farming and expand the amount of land they till. This, in turn, requires farmers to connect with a larger market. Zingarelli sees the region’s restaurants as a growing niche market.

“In talking to Whidbey Island chefs and farmers, I learned that they haven’t connected totally,” says Zingarelli. To bring the groups together, he is working to launch WhidbeyFarm2Chef.

Zingarelli wants to start by connecting farmers and island restaurants. Eventually, he wants to connect island farmers and their goods to mainland chefs throughout the Puget Sound region.

To help get WhidbeyFarm2Chef off the ground, Zingarelli began planning the Producers’ Dinner.

Other chefs have agreed to prepare a course for the dinner, including Paul Sarkis of Village Pizzeria in Langley, Susan Vanderbeek of Oystercatcher in Coupeville and Tim Goeken of Island Chef in Langley.

A former theatrical producer who once managed the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, Zingarelli said he became interested several years ago in helping to promote sustainable agriculture and working to increase the farmland on Whidbey Island.

“While I love the theater and always will, I just feel like there’s something different calling me now,” Zingarelli said.

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