Dushanbe turns farm's ingredients into world cuisine
What goes on behind the scenes, however, is a driving reason for locals to take a different look at the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse.
Tying into a few of Boulder's greater passions — sustainability and focus on locally grown organic food — the teahouse is developing a full-cycle, farm-to-table program.
Last year, Lenny and Sara Martinelli purchased 10 acres in Lafayette and turned the plot of land into a farm. This year, the teahouse's co-owners are harvesting the fruits of their labor and serving them up to patrons.
"I've wanted to do something like this for 18 or 19 years," Lenny said. "With my own farm, I can control what we do and how we do it, as well as get organic food to my restaurants without increasing the cost."
In addition to the teahouse, the Martinellis own Aji Latin American Restaurant, Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant and Naropa Cafe — all in Boulder — and The Huckleberry, Zucca Italian Ristorante and Three Leaf Catering – all in Louisville.
Last year the restaurateurs-turned-farmers worked with one-half acre of Three Leaf Farm to get the hang of it. This year they've got three acres up and going with plans to steadily increase the amount.
"Teaching our chefs about the process is one of the challenges now," Lenny said. "Typically when you decide to cook with one case of cabbage, for example, you'd call your source and get one case.
"When you're farming it, you have to put the seeds in the ground, take into account the amount of time it takes to grow, stagger planting so it keeps growing — and if you get too much, you have to find other uses.
"And then there's the storage to take into account," he added, referring to the typical abundant crops of Colorado's prime crops such as zucchini and yellow squash.
Lenny stressed that his plan for the farm is that it mainly serves as a supplier for the restaurants rather than as a separate money-making venture.
"It'd be great if it made a little money," he said. "But right now I'm focusing on not having to raise prices to be able to serve organic foods."
Although the farm is losing money at this point, he expects it to break even by 2013. "It's an ambitious goal, but I think we can do it," he said. "Mainly, I just need the farm to be able to pay its bills."
By the end of 2012, he expects to be harvesting 35 percent of the produce his restaurants use from the farm.
In addition to growing ingredients with the aim of serving seasonal produce year-round, Lenny has created what he calls an intensive composting system.
"The idea is to have a full-cycle program," he said, "where we make the dirt, plant the food, harvest it, bring it to the restaurants, and then it all goes back to the dirt to grow again."
With an eye on efficiency, he removes food scraps from the restaurants when he delivers food from the farm — about twice a week.
In addition to vegetables, Three Leaf Farm also is providing eggs. With 50 chickens, it produces about 35 eggs daily.
"We also have two goats on the farm for fun, love, happiness and a little manure," Lenny said.
The Dushanbe Teahouse menu changes twice a year. Lenny ultimately would like to change that to four times a year, utilizing seasonal crops from the farm as ingredients.
He sees the opportunity to change menus as a way to bring in recipes from more regions of the world, which was one of his initial plans when he opened the teahouse in 1998.
Lenny and Sara were chosen as operators for the gift from Dushanbe, Tajikistan, Boulder's sister city, by a citizens' group — the Teahouse Advisory Committee.
The idea is a result of Boulder's involvement with Sister Cities International, a nonprofit network that connects partnerships between U.S. and international communities.
"Countries go to war and hate each other," Lenny said, "and a lot of times, no one knows why. This program brings countries together with people-to-people contact rather than government-to-government."
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