Think farm-to-table cuisine, and you may think of white tablecloths and three-digit dinners. Andrew Sereno and Samuel Boyce hope to change that with their newly opened restaurant, Fresh Forage.
In a Jackson Ave. strip mall corner, last home to Giardino’s pizza, they’re serving up a selection of “locally and sustainably sourced” meals. Bowls, salads, smoothies, and soups are all created with seasonal locally farmed and scavenged ingredients.
Sereno and Boyce anticipate that the menu will roll over every two to four weeks, and they readily admit they don’t always know what will be on future editions. Working with farmers and other food sources, rather than making demands ahead of time, is key to their model. “Instead of trying to impose the restaurant model on a farm, it’s imposing the farm model on our restaurant,” says Boyce. “We’re working on the time clock of the farm instead of trying to force a farm into this model of food, which is not sustainable. You can’t force things to grow faster or slower.”
“A lot of restaurants are like ‘OK, we have our set menu, this is what we need you as the farm to produce,'” says Sereno, “and we’re coming at it from a different angle, where the farmer’s like ‘Hey, I’ve got this [ingredient],’ and we change our menu accordingly. It’s totally dynamic.”
He and Boyce, whose family owns a farm in Chelsea, are frustrated that “farm-to-table” is used so freely by restaurants hoping to cash in on a trend. Boyce cites a Dexter restaurant he worked in a few years ago as an example: “They call themselves farm-to-table. Ask them where their eggs are coming from. Costco.”
“That kind of sucks for us,” Sereno adds, “because it devalues it.”
While they can’t locally source every ingredient (they mention oil, rice, and beans as exceptions), they guarantee that every origin will be noted in the menu. “The big thing, too, is once people are familiar with that, and they’re like ‘Oh, people are being transparent,’ then they’ll start to ask the other places,” says Sereno. “They’ll say, ‘Hey, where’s your farm? Where are you getting stuff from?'”
Their larger vision for Fresh Forage is an ambitious picture of ethical sustainability: solar panels, an expansion of the Boyce Family Farm that includes wind turbines, high-tech greenhouse collaborations with interested parties, and a twenty-dollar-an-hour wage for all employees. Their first few steps: fully compostable dishes and utensils mean the restaurant doesn’t have a dishwasher, and employees are starting above a living wage.
While the prices aren’t, as Sereno puts it, “McDonald’s cheap,” they’re more aligned with Fresh Forage’s fast-casual model. Customers order from either the cashier or from one of two electronic kiosks, then service their own tables. The Vegan Paradise Bowl (avocado, black beans, garlic chickpeas, peppers, green beans, and sweet potatoes served over spiralized zucchini and summer squash), the Michigan BBQ Bowl (pulled pork, sweet corn, peppers, caramelized onions, and coleslaw over rice), and “craft your own” versions are available at half and full sizes from $10 to $15.
Though the menu will change, Boyce promises, “We’ll offer enough consistency that anyone can eat here at any time.”
Both thirty-year-olds grew up in Chelsea. They were friends in high school, but Sereno went to the U-M to study chemical engineering then followed a job to California, while Boyce headed to MSU for a degree in anthropology. Both eventually made their way back to the area, and a conversation at a mutual friend’s wedding became the beginning of a collaboration.
“We’re just here, we’re doing our thing,” says Sereno. “We believe in this–it means a lot to us.
“We’re bootstrapping it. We’re not some big-money players who are like ‘Oh, we gotta make it look all super fancy.’ We’re like, hey, it’s the food that matters and the vision behind it.”
Fresh Forage, 5060 Jackson. (734) 887-6655. Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–7 p.m. Closed Sun. freshforage.com