JJC hosts ‘Farm-to-Fork Market’ fundraiser dinner
When Joliet Junior College chef Timothy Bucci heard about the premium meats produced by Slagel Family Farm in downstate Fairbury, he immediately ordered rabbits for JJC’s culinary competition team, which went on to win first place at a national competition in Las Vegas in July.
Bucci is certain the rabbit meat helped earn that win since the student using it could showcase her skills with high-quality ingredients.
“The rabbits were meatier than the alternative we were using, and nice and tender,” said Bucci, of Flossmoor, a 1995 JJC graduate, culinary arts instructor and one of seven chefs on the U.S. Culinary Olympic team in 2012. “The loins were moist, and when cooked up, had excellent flavor. I’m looking forward to using some of his other product.”
That includes short ribs from 40 pounds of grass-fed beef and also pork loins from two hogs that LouisJohn Slagel, owner of Slagel Family Farm, donated for JJC’s Farm-to-Fork Market Dinner on Sept. 28. The dinner raises funds for the culinary program.
Slagel, a 2006 graduate of JJC’s agricultural science production and management program, raises the animals that yield premium foods — beef and veal, pork, lamb, goat, rabbit, turkey, chicken, eggs and even pet food — just a mile away from where his great-great-grandfather Sam Slagel founded his farm in 1888. That farm is still in the family.
Just five miles away, Slagel’s parents and younger siblings work another farmstead. As a family, the Slagels focus on quality rather than mass production. For instance, Slagel feeds his livestock grain, grass and hay that he grows on his farm.
Slagel Farm premium meats are already popular in Chicago upscale restaurants, such as Sixteen at Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago, Slagel said. Chicago Magazine recently named one of Slagel’s creations as the “best overall burger,” Slagel said.
“We raise hogs the old-fashioned way, in open lots and no confinement,” Slagel said. “We don’t feed them antibiotics, steroids or hormones. We use natural breeding, no artificial insemination.”
Slagel is just one of more than a dozen local food producers — including JJC’s own greenhouse — providing ingredients for this gourmet fundraiser dinner. Chef Michael McGreal, culinary arts/hospitality management department chair at JJC, said these farms don’t cultivate their products with long shelf lives in mind.
“You can only buy enough for three days or it goes bad,” McGreal said. “It’s that fresh.”
The beer and wine selections that night not only originate from local providers, they will be freshly created especially for the Farm-to-Fork Market Dinner, McGreal said.
Even dinner chairman Myk Banas, executive chef at Chicago Marriott Downtown, has local roots: He graduated from JJC’s culinary arts program in 1996, McGreal said.
Having grown up around farming, Slagel hadn’t considered attending college until he received a scholarship to JJC.
“It was more beneficial than I would have guessed,” Slagel said. “I did a lot of networking, and the logo on the website was actually designed as a class marketing project.”
While at JJC, Slagel wondered if he should take the commercial farming track or create high-quality products for restaurants and individual consumers. Slagel chose the latter and received plenty of support from his JJC professors.
“It ties in with the local food movement,” Slagel said, “and I figured a lot of students from the culinary arts program end up in the Chicago restaurant industry for their careers. I thought if I could help them out, it would benefit all of us.”
An additional feature at the Farm-to-Fork Market Dinner is a “meet and greet” with some of the local farmers providing the food and with vendors who regularly appear at the JJC farmers market. This will allow guests to ask questions and learn how to order product for themselves.
Slagel, however, won’t be able to attend.
“We do farm dinners with our farm tours,” Slagel said, “and we already had one scheduled for that day.”