5/02/2013 10:04:00 AM

A Day in the Life: John Lash, the Link Between Restaurants and Farms

When you eat out at almost any restaurant in Austin and notice the crispness of those radishes or the tenderness of that pork shoulder, you can be sure John Lash had something to do with it. The hardworking owner of Farm to Table distributes produce, meat and other products from local farms to restaurants like Uchi and Parkside, working closely with the chefs to keep it local.

The idea for his business came from a story Lash heard on NPR about a similar concept in Michigan. And though six years later his phone is ringing off the hook like a superstar’s, he’s the most down-to-earth guy you’ll meet. Here’s what his day looks like.

5:30 - 6:30 Wake up, make bre'akfasts and pack lunches for myself; my wife, Tracy; and daughter Zoe. Breakfast is sautéed tofu and avocado, Poteet strawberries and half grapefruit; Lunch is tuna salad sandwich, clementines and cookies.

Before I get my first cup of espresso, my phone is already chirping, mostly farmers and Dan, my right-hand employee.

6:30 - 7:45 Return phone call from Cora Lamar, one of the state’s well-known and experienced farmers, regarding my spinach order and a planned Poteet strawberry promotion.

Farmers often call me early because something may have happened overnight or there may be something that MUST be harvested that day.

Before I even get to the warehouse we’ve filled order number 47,618.

7:45 - 10:30 Talk with farmers like Buena Tierra Farms about my orders and what they might have new or out of the ordinary.

Still practicing anger management with the City of Austin. I’m still waiting after six weeks for a building permit for a one-day project to put in a new cooler. Small business owners do not get much attention with the City of Austin.

Finalize orders with farmers for delivery on Wednesday in conjunction with the Triangle farmers’ market.

Since it was cold last night and froze all over Texas, I spend 30 minutes canvassing farmers in our buying area, in about a 110 mile radius of Austin. When I call farmer David White in Fredericksburg, he answers the phone with, “No, John, we are ok.” He says he was expecting my call because every spring I phone him on the morning of a freeze. He also reminded me to be on the lookout for April 9. Farmers take superstition seriously, and one saying goes “Thunder in January, freeze 90 days later.” There was thunder on January 9. Short break at Bennu Coffee for a small coffee with a shot.

10:30 - 11:30 Meeting with folks at Gonzalo Garza Independence High School about planning for an upcoming herb event to publicize the Garza Gardens and other Garza programs.

12:00 - 1:00 Noon swim at Barton Springs pool, my way to unwind. Then relax under a tree, eat my packed lunch and read the New York Times. Ignore buzzing phone.

1:00 - 2:30 Return phone calls to chefs regarding menus, harvesting schedule and special orders.

Speak with my daughter Shaw in Chicago about the potential market in Austin for freshly made, from scratch, masa dough. Shaw is the sous-chef in charge of culinary development for Rick Bayless. Her side project is an online recipe magazine called Panna; we discuss chefs to feature.

Spend considerable time talking to a rancher near Taylor about the possibility of developing a market for his cattle, which are grass-fed and finished with grain.

Discuss truck diagnosis with our fleet mechanic….Ouch!

Review special pepper seed order for Olive and June with Gary Rowland at Hairston Creek Farms. 

Communicate with chef who inquired about the possibility of obtaining culinary snails raised in the Austin area. The first person I talk with about snails is Bradley Capron, my mushroom farmer. In a real coincidence Bradley has decided to start raising snails and says they could be ready in five weeks.

2:30 - 3:30 Drop off samples and background literature to several prospective customers.

3:30 - 4:00 Meeting with chef Paul Qui and sous-chef Tim Dornon at Paul’s new restaurant, qui. I’ve brought Strube Ranch beef samples, and we discuss special items and generally what products will be available at the time of his opening in April.

4:30 - 5:00 Shop for dinner at Central Market to supplement what I was not able to procure from my warehouse.

5:00 - 6:00 Walk our dogs in a nearby open space and unwind.

6:00 - 6:30 Return more calls from chefs and farmers; revise and finalize orders for the next two days.

6:30 - 8:00 Prepare dinner and eat with the family. Tonight it’s one of our favorite dishes: chicken thighs with preserved lemon, sautéed spinach, couscous and a salad. The salad will be nearly all Farm to Table - procured products.

8:00 - 11:00 Finish watching the last portion of Life of Pi. Answer a few emails; update the podcasts I listen to on my trips to/from farms) and begin planning my weekly email to customers. Finish up the New York Times, listen to jazz.

11:00 Hit the hay with a book. Tonight rain is predicted, so the future looks brighter for farmers and Farm to Table.

Need to get in touch with the Zagat blog in Austin? E-mail Megan Giller at megzagATX at gmail dot com.

1 comment :

  1. Sounds like this guy is living the dream. Keep on fighting the good fight.