Chef-Farmer Dustin Mentzer: Chef-Farmer Dustin Mentzer is native to Rabun County but left to pursue a degree in Restaurant Management from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park New York. After several years of travel asround the world he returned to Rabun County to raise his family.
Chef-Farmer Dustin Mentzer
Up and Coming Farmer Dustin Mentzer – North Georgia Mountains
Chef/Farmer Dustin Mentzer is native born to Rabun County but left to pursue a degree in Restaurant Management from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park New York. After graduating he took time to hike the Appalachian Trail – and then was excited to move west.
His first chef job was at the Million Dollar Steak House in Jackson, Wyoming. He also worked at one of Gayle and my favorite places, The Granary Restaurant in Jackson. It is positioned perfectly on top of its own mountain looking across the Snake River to the majestic Grand Tetons. Over the next several years he worked in a series of restaurants and bistros in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. It was while he was working as a chef at a ski resort that he met Chantal, now his wife.
After several more years working at ski resorts the two of them decided they were pretty burned out on winter so they moved to Hawaii. That’s when I first met Dustin; they were preparing to start a family and their thinking was that the restaurant business is no place nurture a child. Dustin was looking to return to Rabun County hoping for a quieter more family oriented life-style. He sent me a resume. I was quite impressed with all the wonderful places he had been a Chef. I told him I would be happy to help him find employment in our area.
He did move back to Rabun County and moved in to his Family’s home just off Bridge Creek Road. He first set up a cooking business and worked as a private chef and caterer for events around the lakes. He also did some temporary fill-in roles for local restaurants. One summer he ran the restaurant at Anchorage Marina. But his true interest and love was farming. He has now moved largely away from restaurant cooking and catering and into full-time farming.
Dustin took me on a walking tour of what he and Chantal have named O’hana Farm, which means family in Hawaiian. Oh, their first son’s name is Kaelin, which has a double meaning. In Hawaiian it means “waterfall pool,” while in Gaelic it means “rejoice.”
The farm is rolling hilly land and consists of about 5 acres. Dustin raises a variety of farm animals including 25 Tamworth Pigs, a sturdy heritage breed. Dustin said Tamworths are hardy “Bacon Pigs,” with good mothering capabilities, and they perform very well outdoors, especially when grazing on pasture. They are particularly known for great-tasting, lean meat with good texture. He said he recently delivered one to Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta. Two sows are ready to deliver litters, so more are on the way.
There are a number of hoop houses filled with beautiful organic greens that survived our hard winter of 2014. Seed trays are filled with loamy organic soil and await sunny days that will bring forth broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, salad burnet, kale, and more greens. He also is preparing beds for about a ¼ acre of seed potatoes.
We walked to his barn that was filled with clucking chickens for pastured organic eggs. The chickens were indeed free range as they were ranging everywhere – a big hen had already perched herself on top of my pickup truck. The gardens and hoop houses were fenced to keep the chickens out. And there is also a flock of ducks quacking happily around too.
Dustin’s philosophy is that he wants to raise and grow the finest quality organic products to sell to chefs and the families of our North Georgia Mountains. His foods are grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. He believes in creating healthful soil nourishing plants, animals and people from the roots up. We know this is a difficult challenge as our gardens at Beechwood Inn are largely organic. Flea beetles decimated my Arugula the second day of warm weather. Dustin suggested that I scatter diatomaceous earth around my greens, so I will try that.
While Dustin remains very much interested in food, he is happy being a farmer and does not plan to return to the restaurant business. He does most of the cooking for his family and is proud that his family eats healthy organic foods. Dustin added “We endeavor to provide a sustainable food production system that works directly with our land and all of its challenges as well as virtues in order to provide delicious and nutritious food with minimal impact, enriching and care-taking this precious earth.”
His hope for the future is that the farm flourishes and that in several years he can add more property, perhaps as much as 20 acres total. His vision includes a teaching kitchen on his property where he would offer classes on using and preparing farm grown foods, including the butchering of chickens and pigs. He thinks that introducing school age children to farming and especially the importance of using organic practices is important for their future health.
This year you will see Dustin and his growing family, they are expecting another child later this spring, nearly every Saturday at Simply Home Grown Farmer’s Market in Clayton. His products are also available online at http://northeastgeorgia.locallygrown.net/ He recently acquired a mobile meat license, so be sure to try his heritage pork.
This spring he will offer an honor farm-stand on Bridge Creek Road where he will be offering fresh vegetables, herbs, flowers and eggs. Look for the stand not far from where Bridge Creek Road joins with Charlie Mountain Road. And, if you would like to taste some great Tamworth Pork, check out our upcoming menus at Beechwood Inn. We wish Dustin and Chantal great success in their farming endeavors.
Chef-Farmer Dustin Mentzer
By: Chef David Darugh, Beechwood Inn – Georgia’s Premier Wine Country Inn, beechwoodinn.ws