SUTTONS BAY -- Martha Ryan sometimes doesn't have to look very far for local food to serve in her Suttons Bay restaurant, Martha's Leelanau Table.
"There's a guy out there at table 11 who says he'll have asparagus for you next week," said waitress Kathleen Versnyder as she zipped through the kitchen during a recent lunch rush.
Ryan's commitment to using as much local food as possible makes for creative moments in the kitchen, lots of talking to farmers and some thumbing through the Taste the Local Difference guide, newly published and expanded for 2009.
While Ryan is feeding 50 people in her restaurant -- with room for 30 more on the just-opened deck -- Ted Cizma doesn't really know how many people he feeds each day at the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa. There are three-full service restaurants, various pubs and 89,000 square feet of banquet seating, plus a hotel with room service.
But he knows -- whenever possible -- the food hasn't traveled very far.
"It's always been my personal mission," said Cizma, the executive chef for food and beverage at the resort. "I know how important it is to ensure those farms stay here."
And it's "not just produce, not just meat," Cizma said, but locally brewed, made, distributed or packaged beer, wine, coffee and durables.
Both chefs love the creativity that's involved with building a menu around what's available and in season.
Ryan has used Leelanau Cheese on her menu since she opened her restaurant in 2008. She recently came up with an "M-22 Omelette" that has potatoes, onions, greens -- usually Swiss chard -- and a stripe of Leelanau Cheese down the center of the folded omelette.
Cizma said, "When something becomes available, then you write it on a menu." He has a staff of 40-70 culinary workers, including many students from the Great Lakes Culinary Institute and, "while it's not what I'd call a democracy," he lets the students get creative with the local offerings.
"From time to time, I've been very impressed," he said.
And both chefs enjoy the one-on-one relationships they have with area farmers.
"When you buy local you know it's good," Ryan said, "because you know the people and they know you. You roam around and you find people. Bardenhagens have potatoes, apples, cherries. Margo Ammons from Northport has maple syrup. Julius Kolarik has honey. Everyone knows Julius Kolarik has honey. You go back to the way it used to be 100 years go, when things were made on the farm. People know who's got what."
"When Dick Zenner in Kingsley started up with the lettuce and tomatoes," Cizma said, "fully 50 percent of the tomatoes he produced were coming here. Mike Werp, who grows herbs, greens, root vegetables, he plants to our specifications. Some of the farmers say, 'What else would you like us to grow?'"
Greg Griswold, a Benzie County beekeeper, found Cizma and told him about his bees, which he "takes care of using natural treatments to keep them mite free." Cizma loved the honey and incorporated it into his sweet-and-sour sauce for the roasted chicken dish he makes with Mark Baker's chickens. He's also found local sources for pork, lamb, turkey and more.
Ryan is partial to Shetler's milk and buttermilk -- using the latter in pancakes, biscuits and salad dressings -- and Chris Bardenhagen's chickens for the Sunday suppers. "I can't get an unlimited amount of chickens," she said, "but they are really good."
The following recipes were provided by Ted Cizma, of the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa.
For this salad, the resort's Cizma said, "I utilize sustainably farmed greens from nearby Werp farms and fresh local raspberries. I love the fresh goat cheese curd from Zingerman's creamery in Ann Arbor."
Arugula, watercress and goat cheese salad with raspberry vinaigrette
1 c. fresh raspberries, divided
1/2 c. olive oil
3 T. raspberry vinegar or white wine vinegar
1 shallot, chopped
1 t. honey
2 c. young arugula
2 c. small watercress sprigs
1/2 c. pine nuts, toasted
1 c. crumbled soft fresh goat cheese (about 4 ozs.)
Puree 1/2 c. raspberries, oil, vinegar, shallot and honey in blender. Season dressing to taste with kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper.
Combine remaining 1/2 c. raspberries, greens, watercress and pine nuts in large bowl. Toss with enough dressing to coat. Divide salad among plates. Sprinkle with goat cheese.
Lamb Chops with fresh Michigan Dark Cherry Sauce
3 T. all-purpose flour
3/4 t. coarse kosher salt
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper
8 3/4- to 1-inch-thick lamb rib chops
1 T. butter
1 T. olive oil
1 medium red onion, halved, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
1 c. unsweetened black cherry juice
1 c. halved pitted fresh Michigan dark sweet cherries (about 7 ozs. whole unpitted cherries)
1/3 c. thinly sliced fresh basil, divided
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Mix flour, 3/4 t. coarse salt, and 1/2 t. ground pepper on large plate. Lightly coat lamb chops with flour mixture; shake off excess. Melt butter with oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add lamb chops and cook to desired doneness, about 3 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer chops to baking sheet and keep warm in oven while preparing sauce (do not clean skillet).
Add onion to same skillet and saute 2 minutes. Add cherry juice and bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits. Boil until liquid is slightly reduced and onion is slightly softened, stirring frequently, about 4 minutes. Stir in cherries and half of basil and cook 1 minute. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.
Place 2 lamb chops on each of 4 plates. Spoon sauce over. Sprinkle remaining basil over and serve.
1 lb. strawberries, stemmed, hulled, halved
1/3 c. sugar
1 T. chopped fresh mint
Combine halved strawberries, sugar, and chopped fresh mint in large bowl. Let stand at least 1 hour and up to 2 hours, tossing occasionally.