In the heart of Ohio farm country, Chef Jim Barnhart of the 1833 Restaurant at The Hotel at Oberlin is deeply committed to locally sourcing what he prepares and serves to guests. In fact, he estimates that anywhere from 75% to 90% of the food he serves has been grown or raised within a few miles of the restaurant’s kitchen. “It’s really about keeping in touch with the farmers and utilizing their products,” says Chef Barnhart, who deals directly with more than half a dozen local farmers and purveyors on a weekly basis. “I get strawberries from Krieg’s in Vermillion, and peaches and cherries from Miller Orchards in Amherst, which has the best stone fruit around.”
He gets his micro greens a few miles away at The Chef’s Garden, where owner Lee Jones, a frequent guest on the Food Network, has been singled out with a James Beard Award as a pioneer in sustainable agricultural practices. Gerber Amish Poultry in Kidron is where 1833’s chickens come from while Grobes Fruit Farm is where Chef Barnhart plans to get his potatoes for the restaurant this fall. “We source maple syrup from Holcomb’s in Wakefield, Ohio,” he says, adding that it’s now the sole purveyor for all the maple syrup that 1833 needs—which is a lot of syrup, considering that the restaurant is known for its Sunday brunch featuring waffles and pancakes. “In a state best known for big agriculture, farmers now know that there’s another market,” Chef Barnhart says. “It’s not all soybeans, corn, and wheat.”
The restaurant’s cream and milk come from Holmes County dairy farmers, emmer flour from Stutzman’s Mill in Millersburg, and the tomatoes at 1833 might very well have been grown in Chef Barnhart’s own garden, where he experiments with heirloom varieties. Freshness is paramount, but Chef Barnhart loves to extend the growing season, particularly the spring when the short growing season comes and goes at a rapid rate. Take ramps, for example, which he pickles and then uses to extend the flavor profile on a halibut dish, or purees into ramp gnocchi. Young, crisp carrots are out of season so quickly, so he pickles them with coriander. Green beans, fennel, and radishes all get the pickling treatment as a way of adding spring flavors later in the season.
The local Ohio flavor at 1833 extends to the beer list, where a revolving list of a half dozen Ohio beers is offered at any given time. So are locally grown wines, such as a Cabernet Franc from Vermillion Vineyards and a Ferrante Gewurztraminer. This fall, he’s planning a meet-the-farmer dinner, bringing farmers together with diners for a special dinner at 1833. And the hotel capitalizes on Chef Barnhart’s commitment to local with guest packages such as the Wine Lover’s Package, which includes two bottles of wine from one of Lorain County’s Vineyards with a one-night stay.