In an age of fast food, microwavable meals and delivery services, The Sovengard is bringing “slow food” back to Grand Rapids. Originating in Europe, slow food is a movement encouraging individuals and businesses to purchase from local farmers and cook meals in their own kitchens.
For this reason, The Sovengard recently received the Snail Blazer Award, an annual prize given to a local restaurant by the regional Slow Food branch. This is the first Snail Blazer to be given in West Michigan and it was awarded to The Sovengard for the restaurant’s constant activity in the community and attention to detail when keeping things local and sustainable.
The Sovengard provides traditionally cooked meals with fresh, seasonal ingredients prepared by head chef Patrick Conrade. Conrade grew up preparing meals with his family, which drew him to the local-based ideals of The Sovengard. However, he does admit that there are challenges to slow food.
“The challenges come from what products are readily available to use,” said Conrade. “We source everything hyper-locally—or as local as possible—and everything is cooked from scratch, but that defines the slow food movement. We work with healthy, wholesome foods and sustainable practices—really slowing down and taking your time as a consumer and as a producer.”
Despite the obstacles, Conrade enjoys the challenge of crafting a menu within the limitations of seasonal ingredients, and he works to reduce The Sovengard’s carbon footprint, which in turn helps him support local farms.
“Some of the larger big-box companies will get produce from the west side of the state, then ship it to warehouses on the east side of Michigan, before driving it back to the west side for deliveries,” said Conrade. “The carbon footprint that’s been put on 10 lbs. of blueberries is several hundred miles already.”
“And at that point, how old are they?” added sous chef Ian Milosek. “And they’ve been frozen how many times and thawed how many times? They don’t taste like blueberries anymore, they taste like fruity water.”
Conrade and Milosek get the majority of their ingredients from the Fulton Street Farmers Market, an organization that has been committed to local farmers, education and healthy food for over 96 years. They also have personal relationships with several farms, including Visser Farms, Gurnsey Dairy and Second Spring Farm.
“I feel like we’re doing a little bit more of the local food,” said Milosek. “A lot of places claim farm-to-table, but they still have limes year round, pineapples year round, avocados year round. The award reiterates that we’re really the only ones doing this, it really puts pressure on other places to strive for this.”
Slow food isn’t just for restaurants. Conrade said there are three simple things that people can do to become healthier and more sustainable, “Buy your vegetables fresh. Buy your meats from a good butcher. Do all of the cooking yourself.”