November 12, 2004 | By: Aimee Heald-Nielson
LOUISVILLE, Ky.

The bottom of the menu reads: “God bless our local farmers.” Chef Kathy Cary has built two successful restaurants on that statement. Recently she spoke to more than 250 women at the fifth statewide Kentucky Women in Agriculture conference in Louisville.

“Kathy Cary was one of the first in the region to build menus around locally grown products,” said KWIA board member Sue Weant. “She says sometimes it costs more but the quality is better and it helps preserve the farmers’ lifestyles. Her support for farmers and the local community, where she founded an educational program called ‘From Seed to Table,’ has helped her earn a national reputation.”

Cary grew up on the farm and that legacy and work ethic has stayed with her as she started a catering career and then eventually opened La Peche, a gourmet-to-go establishment, and Lilly’s, a four-star Louisville restaurant.

“I grew up on a farm in Oldham County with wonderful food from the garden and fruit trees,” she said. “We had Angus cattle; we had chickens and we even churned our own butter sometimes. Farmers are my heroes and they are the reason why, still today, I have a wonderful business.”

Over the years Cary has found many creative ways to incorporate Kentucky-grown products into her menus. She tries to identify where products come from or use farmers’ names in menu items as often as possible. Recent items on the menu included things such as Kenny’s White Cheddar Meringue and Hart County Butternut Squash Ravioli. Her menu and products always are changing.

“We’re really proud of what has happened in Kentucky over the last 10 years,” Cary said. “More farmers are showing up at our backdoor and they have so much variety in meats, cheese, and so on. We even started using locally grown red claw (crawfish) and caviar (paddlefish). It’s endless and it just gets better and better. Our menu depends so much on farmers. The excitement is discovering new people and new farmers who’ve discovered new vegetables to grow and new cheeses to offer me that we can put in our menu.”

Cary believes the future is limitless if farmers can partner more with local chefs and restaurants.

“The work being done in Kentucky connecting farmers and chefs is a hard task,” she said. “Chefs can be demanding and inconsistent. But it means more to our customers to see local products and farmers on our menu.”

Contact: 

Writer: Aimee D. Nielson  859-257-4736, ext. 267