Lexy Close: Where did you study and how long have you been a chef?
Alex Bomba: I learned most of what I know cooking under Michael Paley at Proof on Main in Louisville KY. I have been a chef for 10 years (I am 34).
LC: When did you develop an interest in sourcing locally?
AB: I was referred to as a “localvore” in the first review that was ever written about me. I have always felt the using ingredients that are grown or raised near us should take precedent over things that have to be trucked across the country or half way around the world. At my restaurant in Washington DC we focused on buying almost all of our produce from a local growing cooperative and I think this is part of what led to our success on that venture.
LC: What do you like about buying directly from farmers?
AB: May sound cliche but I like to buy anything. There is something to be said for being able to meet the person responsible for the care that went into growing the ingredients.
LC: What don’t you like about it? And/or what would make it easier for chefs to buy local food?
AB: We are still working a lot on distribution. The toughest thing about buying local as a restaurant or caterer is that there is not a central distribution company for all of the great produce that we have locally.
LC: Do you have advice for other chefs or restaurant owners about serving local food?
AB: Don’t be discouraged by what I just mentioned. It may take some more time on the front end to set up delivery with multiple farmers but the end product will be well worth it.
LC: I’ve heard you are doing occasional farm to table dinners. Can you tell me more about these dinners, how often they happen, and how folks can find out more about them?
AB: We do a monthly 5 course dinner at rotating locations. They have become very popular which is fun for me. For the annual farm to table dinner I buy exclusively from local purveyors; these dinners include a lot of local ingredients but I do branch out a little. Any interest should be directed to my wife firstname.lastname@example.org.
LC: What have you served at past dinners and what’s on the menu for an upcoming one?
AB: There is almost always some kind of homemade charcuterie as that is a passion of mine. The first year I took some local lamb and made merguez (very flavorful sausage). This year I made some bacon and am going to candy it and include it in a root vegetable soup. I think my favorite dish through the years was a smoked Cornish Game Hen that I served over a Panzanella Salad.
LC: I’ve also heard that you are trying to open a local grocery store and eatery in downtown Johnson City. Would you care to tell me more about this project and what you are envisioning?
AB: Yes, a close friend of mine and I are going into business together. Grant [Summers] shares my passion for food and for farm to table cooking. We are going to provide a venue for local producers to be able to sell their products. It will also serve as a grocery store and deli for the growing donwtown population. It will be located in a terrific building, the old First National Bank building on the corner of Main and Spring.
LC: What would you like to see in the next 5 years for our region and our local food movement?
AB: If we can continue to drive awareness and interest in farm to table dining, then I would like to see a natural growth in demand. As that happens, it should become less surprising for menus to include locally grown ingredients. That will hopefully become the norm.