Although most of us had never heard of a polar vortex, last winter proved they’re real. And restaurants around the country are still feeling the effects.
An extended cold wave this past winter meant farmers got seeds in the ground later than usual, which pushed harvest season to later in the summer.
Chef Giuseppe Scurato, who moved Ceres’ Table, an Italian-inspired neighborhood restaurant, into Chicago’s bustling East Lakeview neighborhood in May, hasn’t given up on his expectations for summer produce yet.
“Right now we are in the middle of the season for tomatoes and corn. We haven’t quite gotten off that boat yet,” Scurato says. “But there’s not a lot of time left; it’s going to get cold soon. Some produce might get stuck in the middle and not have enough time to ripen.”
Indeed, the Agriculture Department says U.S. farmers will harvest a record haul of corn and soybeans this fall, according to a USA Today report. The abundant supply of the grain and oilseed and the result of timely rains and moderate temperatures have sent prices for both commodities tumbling.
The report says record corn and soybean production has sent ripples throughout agriculture, resulting in cheap feed for livestock producers. Consumers could benefit from lower food prices, especially for steaks and other meats, but the effect is not expected to be felt for some time, analysts said.
For restaurants in the Midwest, Scurato says the next month or so will be the last chance for restaurants to get some of that primo produce.
“Unless you work with farms that raise cows you can get year-round, your opportunities to work with farmers are winding down,” he says.
Dave Becker, who recently opened Juniper, an Eastern Mediterranean restaurant in Wellesley, MA, has been receiving “all sorts of phone calls” from nearby farmers with an abundance of produce.
“It was a great summer for tomatoes in New England,” he says. “Some summers the tomatoes suck and all you have is kale for three months.”