The beginning of Chefs for Farmers, Dallas’ top culinary festival, started with one mission – to connect the best chefs and farmers in Texas.
Sounds simple. But if you think about how things were ten years ago – it was complicated to connect chefs and farmers. There were major obstacles to overcome – time, distance, and awareness — that kept them apart.
The vision started with Iris Midler, who once spent her Sundays driving through Texas with her then-husband, Executive Chef Matt McCallister with a goal of finding products he could source for his job as a chef at one of Dallas’ top kitchens. She saw the inability of two audiences who wanted to connect but had no idea how.
“Farmers don’t know how to market to chefs. They don’t have the money to market,” Iris said. “The restaurants wanted to buy from the chefs. This concept made the connection and bridged all the gaps.”
That’s how the idea for Chefs for Farmers was born.
The growth over the last ten years has been momentous. The community dinner, held at a farm in the middle of a field, has grown into one of Dallas’ top food festivals with a sold-out crowd of 4,000 people. This year it is expanding to Houston (October 2nd!). I heard from a good source that tickets are track to sell out soon.
The goal has been consistent over the decade — to organically connect restaurants and chef-driven restaurants with local, family farmers. Each participating restaurant is partnered with a local farm, using that farm’s ingredients for their featured dish at the festival. The chef is provided with an ingredient stipend to cover costs, which directly supports their partner farm.
Chefs for Farmers also does the same for Texas Wineries. Both opportunities – the Farmer Hero Sponsor and the Winery Sponsor — are currently available for the November 2-6 events.
It’s hard to describe the festival unless you’ve been there. It’s truly a celebration of Dallas’ top independent restaurants with not a corporate chain in sight. It has kept its familial culture in bringing the local community together and showcasing the chefs and farmers that make Dallas special. Consumers get to try a ridiculous amount of food, cocktails, liquor, and wine with an opportunity to vote for their favorites.
The end goal is to strengthen the local food economy in the hopes that the partnership evolves and the chefs continue to locally source ingredients for their menus. Each event benefits a variety of non-profit organizations as well.
Iris asks every single restaurant what farm(s) they source from and that’s a key decision on who makes the list. She researches every restaurant to make sure they support local farmers and every farmer to make sure she knows what they can offer. It’s a curation of the partnership that is assigned with the pairing every year.
She describes herself as a single mom with a kid that loves food and a goldendoodle. “It’s important to teach children and adults that real food comes from a farm. This event is meant to elevate the importance of sustainability, farmers, and our food ecosystem.
I had the chance to turn back the clock by attending the tenth anniversary dinner at Reeve’s Family Farm, a nine-course food and wine community dinner held outside at a communal table. It was truly special and showed the deep community roots this event has and featured a fabulous farm family.
I’ve attended Chefs for Farmers Festival for three years now (it didn’t happen in 2020 during COVID), it’s hard to imagine this was started with zero budget. And, it continues to be bootstrapped each year, but attendees would never know based on how well the event is done.
Why Dallas corporations do not understand the unique opportunity they have to step up and elevate this amazing event makes me wonder how progressive we really are as a city. I’d also like to see the City of Dallas step up and realize the potential of this event. Other cities like Houston, seem to understand what a treasure this is.
As we continue to evolve our food community, we need to prove that farms and independent chefs’ matter. It’s the continued story of community and connection.