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Chef: Local foods spur local menus

By Staff | Apr 2, 2014

CHEF MELIS SPENCER, of Eldon’s Restaurant, in Sioux City, offers a food presentation Saturday at the Siouxland Garden Show in Sioux City. She said she takes opportunities to use locally grown food in her menu creations. Assisting her in preparing meat sauces are Gerry Benoehe, left, a restaurant co-worker, and her “junior chef” son, Hudson, 4.

SIOUX CITY – Melis Spencer said her customers’ smiles tell her they appreciate her use of local food in menu items.

“They’re happy,” said Spencer, a veteran chef at Eldon’s Restaurant in Sioux City, “very happy to know where the food they’re eating is coming from, and that it’s locally produced. Our customers seem to know, too, that when what’s on their plate looks healthy, it is healthy.

“They express the feeling, too, that they’re glad to be putting money back into the community because they realize we depend as much as possible on our local growers,” she said.

Spencer was among several presenters at the Siouxland Garden Show in Sioux City. She’s been on the staff at Eldon’s Restaurant since it opened in February 2009 and said she enjoys the opportunity to be able to offer diners healthy and savory menu selections.

“The Roths,” she said, “Eldon and Regina, (founders of Beef Products Inc.) are very big about supporting their local community, its commerce and industries. The use of locally produced produce is part of this goal.”

Spencer said local farmers’ markets are a primary source of Eldon’s locally produced ingredients.

“We’ve got a pretty good name in the community now,” she said, “and vendors come to us wanting to provide us with the produce and want our business.

“At other times, if there’s something special we need, we’ll also go to a producer and say this is what we’re looking for and they’ll do everything they can to accommodate us.”

This networking, she said, is how the business once obtained local garlic sprouts for a specific recipe.

As Spencer blended the day’s sauces – classic basil pesto, tarragon coulis, and cilantro chimichurri – her 4-year old son, Hudson, garbed in his own chef’s attire, watched patiently.

Spencer and Gerry Benoehe, an Eldon’s co-worker, readied the sauces for tasting by garden show attendees.

“We try to keep up seasonally on availability of the produce and to use it fresh and as available,” Spencer said, adding that in some instances other locally produced protein and seafood items may be used for the restaurant’s monthly wine dinners.

Spencer, with 15 years experience as a chef, grew up in Turkey. She said her heritage has contributed greatly to her own at-home frequent use of ethnic recipes, including Mediterranean flavor. She said all professional chefs have an inherent love for food and making their cooking creations tasty, as well as special.

“It is for me,” she said, “awesome to be able to use locally grown vegetables, herbs and fruits in what I prepare.

“The flavors and nutrients are so much better. Being able to take the locally produced ingredients in our hands and to prepare a meal for our guests is very rewarding.”

Spencer said she is an enthusiastic advocate of locally grown produce whenever possible for at-home dining experiences.

“It can be rewarding,” she said, “to go out to your own garden to get a head of lettuce and bring it in to make your own salad. It’s so different than going to the supermarket and buying it.

“You know the hard work you’ve put into growing it, and now it’s time for it to be enjoyed by you and your family,” she said.

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