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CharlestonGroup StoryImgDecadent dining at one of the Charleston Group restaurants, manned by Tony Foreman.
Tony Foreman likes to shop. He favors a nice striped Armani suit, dapper by Baltimore standards—though appropriate for his position as a leader in the restaurant scene here—yet comfortable enough for his dashes between two of his establishments, Charleston and the nearby Pazo. But clothing is the least of his purchasing passions.
Foreman is most happy hobnobbing with growers—of rabbits, goat’s milk, fine herbs, and Burgundy grapes—or purveyors of anything else: from wine glasses to seat cushions to staff uniforms for the three (soon to be four) restaurants he owns with his wife, chef Cindy Wolf.
A “shopping” excursion with Foreman could be an all-day affair, what with wandering through meadows to survey the chickens that will soon be on a spit at Pazo, or eggs that will be poached and dropped atop a bed of frisée at his third restaurant, Petit Louis. Today is more of a due-diligence expedition, and Foreman’s in a T-shirt that says “ooh la la.” It’s a chance to check in at a couple of farms to see what’s up, and the trip also gets his brain ticking away with ideas for meals.
“How much notice would you need to get some hindquarters for prosciutto?” he asks David Smith. We are standing on a scrubby slope at Springfield Farms, a place in Sparks, Md., that supplies chickens, rabbits, and eggs to the Charleston Group’s restaurants. Two good-sized heirloom Tamworth pigs, Miss Piggy and Petunia, are trying to nuzzle their muddy noses against my jeans. Smith, a retired Army lieutenant colonel-turned-farmer, thinks for a moment before answering. These two pigs have been raised by his grandson, who sells their offspring for butchering (Smith likes to use the word “processing”), so the answer depends on the litter sizes and orders already in place.
This is the tone of our day: I see a wiry-haired pig craving scratches under her chin; Foreman sees thin slices of salty cured thigh meat. I pet a white New Zealand rabbit: a classic pink-eyed storybook bunny (this one happens to be a family pet). In the cage is a relative that could easily become the tender meat atop risotto I sample the following evening at Charleston.
There’s nothing wrong with knowing where your food comes from. In fact, in a perfect, sustainable world, we would eat what is around us, growing, nurturing, and loving our food before it hits the plate. Still, as Foreman likes to say, “It’s better to eat food than be food.” His preference is to buy local when possible, but he is in no way exclusive, importing, for example, cheese from all over, truffles when available (and, for the most part, legal) from France, and produce from wherever it is currently in season.
Later, we visit Richfield Farms a few miles away and walk along rows of newly sprouting spinach and lettuce leaves, admiring the flats of tomatoes that will soon be planted. It’s early May, and Ian Seletzky, who owns the farm with his father, has heard that the night temperatures may yet dip below freezing this season.
Glancing at the healthy plants, I realize how critically important it is to protect them—a good portion of the family’s income will come from the tomatoes sold to restaurants and at farmers markets. In the meantime, Foreman is admiring the young greens.
“Give me a bushel price and I’ll put a salad on,” he says, promising to meet Seletzky at Sunday’s Baltimore market to fulfill the transaction. Foreman wants to know if Seletzky is interested in growing paprika peppers and flageolet beans. “I’ve been trying to get someone to grow flageolets for about five years,” he says. Seletzky demurs.