Words by Katie Lew
Photos by Abby Mortenson
Late this summer, three of us from Colorado Collective had an opportunity to spend the afternoon at Fruition Farm, a farm in Larkspur started by chef Alex Seidel of Fruition Restaurant in Denver. The experience was fascinating and gave us a unique glimpse into the work of one of the most celebrated chefs in Colorado. Since opening Fruition Restaurant in 2007, both Alex and his restaurant have won numerous industry awards, including Zagat’s best Colorado restaurant, Food and Wine Magazine’s Best New Chef of 2010, and Alex has been a James Beard Award finalist several times.
However, Alex says his biggest sense of accomplishment comes from the caliber of people he has had the opportunity to work with.
“If you go into Fruition, there’s no Food and Wine articles on the wall, no Zagat scores by the bathroom, that’s not why we did it. All those things are very cool and honorable, but for me, success is more defined by the people who come through Fruition and what they do. They can go on to become cheese makers and partners in their own restaurant”, he adds, “One of my chefs is 28 and he’s a partner in Union Station with me. He’s been with me for 7 years and I feel good about bringing him through and watching him grow”. Mercantile, Alex’s new restaurant and market in Denver’s Union Station, will feature many preserves and products sourced from the farm.
For Alex, Fruition Farm is more than just a provider of locally sourced ingredients. When he started Fruition Farm in 2009, Alex’s vision was for the farm to change the local food scene in big ways.
“This farm is basically a continuing education for me, and my staff and our community”, Alex explains, “My chefs get an opportunity to come down and plant, and water, and harvest and package and deliver so that they really understand every stage in the life of the products that we use. I think they get a little bit more pride that way in working with the ingredients, understand them, respecting them more, taking care of what they put on the plate.”
In the future, Alex hopes to form a co-op of restaurants in the area that share the farm and it’s resources. These restaurants would pull produce, cheese, eggs and meat from the farm, but also send their chefs and staff to the farm to grow in their understanding of the elements they use.
“To be able to provide fresh produce so that it’s not being trucked in, that’s so important. I feel like we’re losing where we come from, so this is important.”
To ensure that the quality of ingredients remains high, Alex recently brought on two botanists who live at Fruition Farm full time. Ilse and Steve Anderson worked in commercial green houses for years before becoming tired of all of the chemicals sprayed on the plants. They are now working on improving the growing practices at Fruition and expanding the farm to include four-season greenhouses. Ilse and Steve are passionate about using organic growing practices and being as hands-off as possible with the process.
“We want the plants to grow naturally, we don’t want to force them. We basically put them in the ground and let them grow”, says Ilsa, adding, “I find we are returning to a lot of the practices my dad used in his garden, just on a larger scale”. Ilsa smiles as she describes visiting Fruition restaurant and eating a dish made with produce from the farm, “We just sit there and go ‘Wow, I cut that this morning’. And to be able to provide fresh produce so that it’s not being trucked in, that’s so important. I feel like we’re losing where we come from, so this is important.”
In addition to a large garden and green houses, Fruition Farm is home to pigs, sheep and chickens. The sheep are particularly important as they provide the milk for three sheep milk cheeses produced on the farm. Fruition Farm is Colorado’s first sheep’s milk dairy and creamery, and Alex says many people he meets don’t even know that sheep can be milked. While sheep don’t produce as much milk as cows, it takes less milk to produce a sheep’s milk cheese due to the high fat and mineral content of the milk.
The three cheeses produced at the farm range from a fresh sheep’s milk ricotta to the Cacio Pecora, a raw sheep’s milk cheese that is aged up to two years. Fruition Restaurant uses the cheeses in dishes such as their Ricotta Beignets and an Heirloom Tomato Salad with shaved Cacio Pecora, but the cheeses are also prized by chefs all around the country. “We distribute to a few chefs in New Orleans, and a few chefs in the Milwaukee and Chicago areas. We have to be very select, so I usually just contact chef friends. Because we did start so small, we have to grow small,” Alex explains.
When asked what advice he would give to someone starting a farm, Alex replies, “Do a lot of research. We had no background in farming, so we went and worked on other farms. It’s sort of like being a chef, mise en place, everything in its place. You have to understand the process and the organization of what you need to make the process successful. We built everything from scratch.” Fruition Farm is now five years old and that research has obviously paid off.
The dairy is thriving, with shelves filled with golden rounds of aging cheese, and the gardens are expanding and producing more all the time. Alex and Fruition Farm are well positioned to spark the sort of food awakening he envisions for our community, one delicious ingredient at a time.