Some bosses indulge in summer Fridays, letting people knock off early when everyone wants to get out of town. Mary Cleaver, the longtime locavore behind the Table Green park kiosk and Green Table eatery, has another idea: she takes her staff out of town herself.
So on Monday, Battery Park visitors searched in vain for fresh lemonade and grass-fed hotdogs, while Chelsea Marketeers went without kale salad, chicken pot pie and kimchi-crowned burgers. That’s because Cleaver had shuttered shop for the day to take her whole crew on a field trip.
Cleaver, whose eponymous company also caters events, has been a Greenmarket regular since the Union Square market opened in 1976 (in fact, today is the market’s 38th birthday) and now shuts down her entire business one day a year so that staff — from servers and sous chefs to dishwashers and bookkeepers — can go back to the land, at least for the day.
What they learn will help them understand Cleaver’s cooking from the ground up. Past destinations have included Snow Dance Farm, Rogowski Farm, and Captain Lawrence Brewery, whose chicken, vegetables and beer, respectively, keep Cleaver customers happily sated. Monday, 41 Cleaver staffers, plus 5 tag-along children, loaded into vans and headed north to Hawthorne Valley Farm, whose organic and biodynamic dairy provides the Cleaver kitchens with cheese and yogurt, plus some produce. (Hawthorne Valley will soon be getting even more chef-visitors, through the farm’s partnership with Natural Gourmet Institute.) Cleaver & Co. met the herd; toured the bakery, kraut cellar, and cheese caves; and even got their hands in the soil transplanting beet seedlings from greenhouse to field.
But what trip’s complete without a drink? Before returning to Manhattan, the vans pulled in at Hillrock Estate Distillery, “which was awesome” raved Cleaver’s Operations Manager, Kate Ferranti. Hillrock takes a Little Red Hen approach, planting, tending and harvesting all the grain themselves, before malting, roasting and ultimately distilling it. The visitors saw every step before concluding with, what else, a tasting.
It’s not cheap to hang the “gone fishin'” sign but to Cleaver, it’s worth it. Explains Ferranti, “She feels very strongly that we should visit the people who grow and raise our food so that staff might better understand and embrace our sourcing philosophy. We close all three arms of the company for the entire day so that everyone who wants to come is able.”