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Foodservice Forum: Archives Restaurant promoting 'Jersey Fresh' produce

by Christina DiMartino | June 01, 2010

In collaboration between the Trenton Marriott Downtown Archives Restaurant in Trenton, NJ, and the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, the restaurant began featuring "Jersey Fresh" produce on its menu May 3.

"Archives Restaurant has committed to purchase New Jersey-grown produce and highlight a different 'Jersey Fresh' item on its menu once a month," said Jeffrey M. Zeiger, general manager of the Trenton Marriott Downtown. "Our executive chef, Mark Ellis, will create the monthly menu item, and he will hold a monthly after-work cooking demonstration of the recipe in one of the meeting rooms at the hotel. The first demonstration was held on May 18."

The dish for the month of May was New Jersey asparagus salad with citrus- balsamic vinaigrette. The menu featured the item alongside the "Jersey Fresh" logo. The recipe ingredients are grilled New Jersey asparagus, mixed field greens and buffalo mozzarella with a balsamic citrus vinaigrette. Those who attended were treated to a taste of the dish, and they received a copy of the recipe.

Endive will be featured on the Archives menu in June, followed by blueberries in July, tomatoes in August, peaches in September and Butternut squash in October.

Mr. Zeiger is hoping the program will be a great success so that it can be expanded all year round, using New Jersey seafood in the winter months. Archives Restaurant sources its New Jersey produce from J. Ambrogi Food Distribution Inc. in Thorofare, NJ, a major distributor that, while sourcing from across the country and offshore, is devoted to keeping local farms alive. Every season it strives to provide customers with as much local sustainable produce as possible, claiming that by supporting local farms, it reduces its carbon footprint, encourages the well-being of the local economy and delivers the freshest and finest produce to its customers.

"The hotel and restaurant, which seats 140 people, is located in the state's capital," said Mr. Zeiger. "There are approximately 26,000 workers within a several-mile radius. Because of this, we get a strong lunch crowd. We felt it was the perfect venue to feature foods that are produced in New Jersey because the majority of these people are residents of the state, and so are committed to their communities."

Chef Ellis is a culinary graduate of the Philadelphia Restaurant School. He served as adjunct professor for Mercer County Community College, where he taught the fundamentals of cooking, advanced culinary techniques and ethnic food utilization.

"My passion for cooking started at an early age and at home," said Chef Ellis. "Cooking with my family was not only fun, but it also taught me the importance of fresh ingredients, flavor profiles and the true meaning of family. Since graduating from culinary school, I have worked in fine dining establishments, supermarket commissaries, and was the executive chef for an international airline in business and first-class meals."

Mr. Zeiger said that Chef Ellis' previous work in airline meal production provided him with the ability to be consistent in food preparation. "Customers get the same great hamburger, salad or entrée every day," said Mr. Zeiger. "Mark's experience in the high-end restaurant industry also enables him to bring flair and creativity to the menu, but he does it in mass production style. He also knows how to teach his staff consistency and flair."

Archives Restaurant, which opened in 2002, is the only dining establishment in the area that specializes in continental food. Its most popular items are the steak and blue salad, a grilled skirt steak served on fresh greens with crumbled blue cheese and balsamic vinaigrette. Also popular is Asian chicken salad, a combination of Napa cabbage, mandarin oranges and five-spiced chicken with peanut dressing.

"Most of our regular patrons watch what they eat and are carbohydrate conscious, so our salads are the most popular menu items," said Mr. Zeiger. "Chef Ellis' daily buffet, which is also highly popular, offers a fresh salad bar, soup, entree selections, pasta, rice or potatoes, vegetables and a variety of desserts."

Logan Brown, economic development representative for the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, helped to coordinate the Jersey Fresh promotion at Archives Restaurant.

"We are very excited about this partnership with the Trenton Marriott," said Mr. Brown. "The supermarket industry has made great strides in promoting the Jersey Fresh locally grown program, and consumers now identify strongly with it. To have products offered on restaurant menus is an added perk for local growers. It also demonstrates a restaurant's commitment to the community, and it helps to spread the locally grown word even more."

The Jersey Fresh program was started in 1983. Mr. Brown said that the department likes to think it was the "original" locally grown program in the country and that today it is synonymous with the locally grown movement. "We work with a different budget each year, depending on what is available to the program," said Mr. Brown. "But regardless of how much or how little we have available for promotional and marketing efforts, the brand recognition continues to grow each year."

The department is also promoting the 130 community farmers markets throughout the state that are beginning to open for the season.

On May 11, New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher visited the Trenton Farmers Market with Mr. Zeiger and Chef Ellis, where he introduced them to the farmers who sell what they grow at the year-round market. Secretary Fisher announced that with the seasonal openings, Jersey produce is readily available for all restaurants that are interested in serving locally grown fruits and vegetables.

"Residents of New Jersey know that when they want to incorporate Jersey Fresh produce into their meals, they can easily find locally grown fruits and vegetables at a community farmers market, roadside market or supermarkets," Secretary Fisher said in a press release. "We are asking restaurant owners and chefs to search out these items and highlight 'Jersey Fresh' regularly on their menus because it has been demonstrated that the public highly prizes local produce."

Unlike most community farmers markets, which are seasonal and temporary, the Trenton Farmers Market is in a permanent building and is open six days a week throughout the year. The market has nine farmers who sell during the produce growing season.

"Our market provides the freshest possible fruits and vegetables from local farms, picked only hours before they are sold," Jack Ball, manager of the Trenton Farmers Market, said in the press release. "There are many local restaurants that purchase produce from our market. They know there's a huge difference in freshness and taste when they serve local fruits and vegetables in their salads and desserts."

Mr. Brown said that the New Jersey Department of Agriculture works with the New Jersey Restaurant Association in an effort to promote New Jersey products.

"There are several restaurants that periodically put the 'Jersey Fresh' logo on their menus to correspond with dishes that incorporate local produce," he said. "We provide the artwork for their menus. The agency also plans to do cooking demonstrations at farmers markets using chefs from foodservice operations in the future. The 'Jersey Fresh' logo is a common site at markets in the state."

Currently, the department is working to develop a foodservice promotion with Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, NJ.

"Through the use of the Jersey Fresh theme throughout the entire foodservice division, it set out to become the first Jersey Fresh hospital," said Mr. Brown. "It is using New Jersey product and branding in their cafeteria, patient meals and coffee shop. It is also seeking to set up a weekly farmers market in the parking lot, and it has begun Jersey Fresh cooking demonstrations for cancer patients."

"From the very beginning, we fell on a solid brand name, and we've kept it consistent over the years," Mr. Brown concluded. "The result is a highly successful program that benefits the community, growers and consumers."