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Two Chicago chefs buy their own farms

Didier Durand and Dan Marquis take farm-to-table literally by sourcing produce from their own farms

By Jessica Reid Johnson

For RedEye

10:53 AM CDT, May 24, 2012

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Many restaurants claim to be Farm-to-Table, but two Chicago chefs recently took this connection
a step further, by bringing their farm to your table.

Chef Didier Durand of Cyrano’s Farm Kitchen has long been a supporter of local farming, filling the tables at his River North restaurant with ingredients bought at farmers markets in Michigan City, Ind.  Because he dreamed of returning to his grandparent’s farming roots and misses the “daily life of the farm,” he said, he purchased six acres of farmland in nearby Laporte, Ind. last year.

Reopening Cyrano’s riverwalk location keeps him busy, but Duran still spends one day a week on the farm. Right now, all that's growing is wild mint grows and the occasional treasure of morels. He is currently “working the ground” and prepping the soils for spring planting, which will soon include lettuces and radishes. He has plans to grow all kinds of herbs, chard, sorrel, as well as tomatoes and cucumbers for French-style pickling. He's farming without the use of synthetic pesticides because “natural is better for health," he said.

Another local chef, Dan Marquis of Quay in Streeterville, took over his family farm in Sheffield, Ill. to guarantee he had all the “things that he wanted to use on the menu,” he said.

While Marquis decides what to plant, and works there a few days a week, his brother manages the farm full-time and does majority of the work. They have spent the past three years converting 20 acres of inactive land to fields for food production: plowing the earth, reseeding the pasture with alfalfa and hay, clearing nine acres of forest, and installing a 30 by 70 foot greenhouse for extended season production.

Marquis' spring/summer menu at Quay is designed around the hopes of harvest, including red and green oak leaf lettuce, kale, chard, frisee, and herbs. Starting in the fall, they plan to raise animals as well, including quail, ducks, pheasant, lamb, and perhaps Berkshire hogs. Marquis’ late summer and fall menus will emphasize gourds, such as red kuri and Queensland blue squash, heirloom tomatoes, and chocolate peppers. He said that he enjoys working in both the kitchen and on the farm, the combination of which allows him to create dishes that represent his concept, from seed to plate.

Jessica Reid Johnson is a RedEye special contributor. redeye@tribune.com | @redeyechicago