Imagine your next meeting or event’s dinner held amid the wilds of northern Michigan. You’re tucking your fork into the freshest of beef tenderloin from an area farm and sipping on beer brewed just a few miles from your rustic dining table.
Your view is one of brilliant oranges and dazzling reds—colorful autumn trees that cast golden shadows on a pristine pond. A deer family saunters through while a pheasant or two flies above. Attendees make toasts as they anticipate that they may see an elk later in the evening.
That’s a typical scene from the celebrated Farm2Fork dinners, which fall under Treetops Resort’s Culinary Adventures series. Guests are shuttled out to the Gaylord property’s old Wilderness Cabin for a taste—and view—of pure Michigan.
The farm-to-table or farm-to-fork trend, which promotes serving local food at restaurants and resorts through direct acquisition from producer, such as wineries, breweries, farms and fisheries, is becoming extremely prevalent throughout Michigan and offers meetings and events attendees and planners alike exciting dining options. Not only can they enjoy fantastically fresh fare, but also learn more about its origins and how it’s cooked.
“This farm-to-table trend is going to stick around,” says executive chef Matthew Nelson, who heads up the kitchens at Mission Point Resort on Mackinac Island. The 27-year-old food guru, in fact, says most of his training was focused on farm-to-table principles.
A graduate from the very first graduating class (2015) of Les Cheneaux Culinary School in the Upper Peninsula’s Hessel, Nelson says his school was “strictly farm-to-table. We learned about what grows there, the livestock, harvesting our own ramps and morels and root vegetables. I’d say most of what we cooked with came from within a 100-mile radius.”
Before landing on idyllic Mackinac Island, Nelson worked at Butch’s Dry Dock in Holland. “About 80 percent of what we brought in was from local farms in the greater Grand Rapids area,” Nelson recalls. “And we named all of the farms we used on our menus.”
At Mission Point overlooking the Straits of Mackinac, Nelson plans to bring more of the farm-to-table concept to life. “Right now, we have a lot of fresh fare from area farmers, but I’d like to have more.”
For example, the resort sources its bacon and sausage from Plath’s Meats (based in Rogers City and Petoskey). And its Grand Marais whitefish is pulled from the cold waters of northern Lake Superior. “All of our herbs, used for cooking and craft cocktails, are from our garden on the resort’s property,” he adds.
Guests will also find cherries at the oatmeal buffet from Traverse City. And when dining there in the spring, guests are bound to find Michigan asparagus on the menu, tucked into items such as the special vegetable-topped bruschetta. “Michigan asparagus makes a world of difference,” he says.
In southwest Michigan, many of Moersch Hospitality Group’s restaurants utilize fresh, locally sourced ingredients, explains Matt Moersch, CEO of Moersch Hospitality Group.
Tabor Hill Winery & Restaurant in Buchanan, Free Run Cellars in Berrien Springs and Public House at Round Barn Brewery in Baroda—all owned by the Moersch family— offer special farm-to-table fare overseen by executive chef Ryan Thornburg.
“Chef Ryan’s seasonal menus feature fresh, locally sourced ingredients with unique twists,” Moersch says. “The seasonal menus at Tabor Hill and Free Run offer a variety of specially curated dishes, including, for example, a smoked lake trout salad with rhubarb-ginger preserve.”
Meanwhile, in Northern Lower Michigan, Treetops Resort’s Barry Owens contemplates his next Farm2Fork menu.
“We don’t really know exactly what we’ll be serving until closer to an event or special dinner,” says Owens, the Gaylord resort’s general manager. “We partner with various farmers in the area and whatever is fresh, in-season and available is what we go with.”
Treetops’ Farm2Fork dinners can accommodate up to 32 attendees. Organized dates are posted on the resort’s website, but event planners can book dates outside of those times as well, throughout the year.
Typically, Treetops’ banquet chef, Garrett Swift, who prepares various courses in the Wilderness Cabin’s on-site kitchen, will come out to greet Farm2Fork diners and talk about the menu. A representative from a local farm or brewery often will be on hand to share insights on farming and/or brewing.
“We have a ‘hops and roots’ dinner planned for Oct. 20,” Owens explains. “We’ll have someone here from nearby Cook Family Farm as well as someone from Short’s Brewing Co. (it recently won Best Craft Brewery/Brewpub in the MIM+E Best of 2018 readers’ choice awards). What’s really neat is often they’ll use certain beers and infuse them into the actual recipes. So a meat, for example, may be marinated in a type of beer,” adds Owens, who himself is an avid farmer in the way of beekeeping on his home property. With a new food and beverage director (Scott Rutter) and chef Garrett, these dinners are sure to be a success.
Whether dining on food and wine sourced from the Great Lakes State amid a verdant Southwest Michigan vineyard shimmering with deep greens and rich royal blue and purple orbs, or sipping on a crafted beverage enhanced with fresh-out-of-the-garden mint and overlooking the cerulean Straits of Mackinac, a meeting attendee’s farm-to-table choices are wondrous. Cheers!