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We head back to the city’s Warehouse District, where the other four out-of-towners have rented two apartments. They’re only in town for a couple extra nights, but have opted for this lodging because a chef needs his kitchen. While the boxes of samples are still being carried in, Matt and Michael already have water running over the frozen lamb and the oven firing up. They’re now cleaning and cooking everything they’ve gathered the last two days, including produce, beef and pork from their stops the day before Peter and I joined.

“Someone open the windows,” Matt shouts to no one in particular, clearly foreshadowing a kitchen on the verge of heating up.

Troy runs downstairs to a store to pick up more beer, local, of course, from Akron’s Thirsty Dog brewery, and several Ohio wines are opened as everyone but the chefs sits back and relaxes. Within minutes, plates are on the counter and the crew that has grown to include Alan Feuerman, the new hotel’s director of sales and marketing, and Kevin McKinney, Sage Hospitality’s v.p. of design and construction, starts enjoying the chefs’ fast work.

A tomato and watermelon salad tastes like it’s been prepared in a fine-dining restaurant and not in this tiny kitchen. Fresh corn polenta, cheese and lamb and pork sausages follow. Next comes a plate with pork from two different farms, then another offers a side-by-side comparison of beef from each. Favorites are chosen and someone must be making more than mental notes because a couple weeks later I learn they’ve already placed an order for 10 heritage breed hogs from the livestock farm they liked the most.

I ask Matt when the chefs get to sample their work and the new products, and he says they don’t eat until everyone else is fed. Some friendly debate ensues as others question the amount of tasting that happens before serving, as the already relaxed team loosens up even more as day turns to night.

It’s a little after 9, and I head home, west out of Cleveland on the same roads I drove earlier with Peter. I think back to the whirlwind day and realize I never answered the question he asked from the back of Farmer Lee’s truck. No Peter, I don’t think anyone in my company did anything as cool as this today. The Sage crew had fun along the way, but it was definitely work for them—the kind of work and attention to detail that go into opening a first-class restaurant.

Follow the series online at www.restaurant-hospitality.com/urban-farmer-undercover as Karpinski and Sage Restaurant Group allow us an inside look at what goes into opening one of their restaurants. Next up: Photo Gallery / Riding along with Sage.