The term ‘farm to table’ (or ‘farm to fork’) has been bandied around so much that it can seem like empty buzzwords used by restaurants to convince diners that their produce is fresh. For Vinny Lauria, executive chef of Homegrown Foods, explaining farm to table couldn’t be simpler. “Vegetables are picked and come straight to the restaurant, being prepared that day or the next and landing on the table, cooked in the best possible way to highlight the freshness and flavour of the ingredients,” he says. Homegrown Foods’ three restaurants – Linguini Fini, Posto Pubblico and Stone Nullah Tavern – source all their produce from local farms. “I cook with what’s around me. I look at ingredients, and think about how I can highlight them in the best way,” the chef says. “Wherever the restaurant is, you’ll find me treating it like a region of Italy and cooking with the local produce. That’s true Italian cuisine.”
Though many people see farm to table as a trend, Lauria is quick to brush this off: “This is the natural way to cook for me. It’s logical and it’s timeless.” Lauria, originally from Nashua, New Hampshire, spent his childhood learning how to make things by hand. “My grandfather came over from Sicily and it wasn’t like he could get a supplier to have tomatoes delivered from Italy,” recalls the 32-year-old. “He used what was around him to cook the way he knew how – hanging out with Grampy meant curing meat, growing vegetables, making sausages and wine.” Lauria joined Homegrown Foods in late 2011, after moving to Hong Kong to open 208 Duecento Otto.
Homegrown Foods also operates as a supplier, sourcing produce from local farms or around Southeast Asia, as well as nuts and dried fruit from Afghanistan. “Our core is true hospitality – taking people in and treating them like family and caring about what’s on the table, the surroundings, the service,” Lauria says. Although the restaurants differ in their offerings (Linguini Fini and Posto Pubblico specialise in Italian-American fare, and Stone Nullah Tavern serves American cuisine), there is an emphasis on using local produce and making things in-house when possible. “We get our vegetables from local farms, and it would be blasphemous to take those natural beauties and cover them with processed sauces. I want to know every ingredient that goes into my dish,” Lauria says. At Linguini Fini, dried pasta hangs above the bar, alluding to the fact that all pasta and sauces are made in-house. Fresh mozzarella is a favourite, as are the pickled chillies (especially atop one of the pizzas), and pancetta and lardo are cured in the restaurant.
Though the group used to own a plot of land, it wasn’t nearly big enough to provide for the restaurants’ needs. Zen Organic Farm in Ta Kwu Ling and Hong’s Organic Farm in Yuen Long now provide fruits and vegetables, and pork is sourced from the venerable Wah Kee Farm. “We have such a great relationship with our suppliers and want to support them,” explains Lauria.
People used to believe that imported vegetables reigned superior to those grown here, but Lauria disagrees: “There’s a lot of socially responsible reasons why it’s great, but as a chef you know it tastes better! The tomatoes from Zen Organic Farm are picked that morning, when they’re ripe. A tomato from Holland might look beautiful, but you take a bite and it tastes like water. Why? Because it wasn’t ripe when it was picked, and it took a week to get over here and lost all the nutrients that give it flavour. It’s not about the gimmick. It’s about the fact that as a chef, I want food to taste good.”
WHAT? Homegrown Foods is a supplier of local produce and has a restaurant arm, with Italian-American eateries Posto Pubblico and Linguini Fini as well as Stone Nullah Tavern, which serves American cuisine.
WHO? Founded by restaurateur Todd Darling. Vinny Lauria is the executive chef.
WHEN? Posto Pubblico (2009), Linguini Fini (2012), Stone Nullah Tavern (2013)
SIGNATURE DISHES: Papardelle ‘nose to tail’ bolognese (made with pig’s head, veal loin and oxtail), caprese (organic tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil and 30-year-old balsamico) and homemade spicy sausage (with peppers, onions, chilli and oregano mustard), all at Linguini Fini.
WHAT’S SPECIAL: Lauria draws on his childhood experiences to make items in-house and works closely with local suppliers such as Wah Kee Farm to utilise items like pig’s head that often go to waste.
WHERE? Linguini Fini, 49 Elgin Street, Soho; tel: 2387 633