By Terry Rogers
Kevin Reading, owner of Abbott’s Grill in Milford and Abbott’s on Broadcreek in Laurel was the guest speaker at the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Milford Sunrise Seminar in July. Mr. Reading, who often offers cooking classes using local, fresh ingredients and focuses on using them in his restaurants, explained that everything cooked is a source of what is purchased.
“If you buy a good product, you will create a good product,” Mr. Reading said. “When I owned the Fox Point Grill in Wilmington, I would get up early and hit the farmer’s markets in the area, buying direct from the farmers before produce went to the grocery stores.” Mr. Reading said that he often saw large trucks arriving to pick up fresh produce, meats and other items at the farmer’s market to deliver to local stores that would not be on the shelves for a few days. That was when he realized it was better to purchase directly from the farmer than to shop in grocery stores or purchase from wholesale outlets.
Mr. Reading has owned several restaurants throughout Delaware, including the Fox Point Grill. After that restaurant, he opened Espuma in Rehoboth and then Sweet Dreams Bakery before opening Nage, which he has since sold to a close friend. He said that at his restaurants, customers are often eating food that came out of the ground that morning.
Mr. Reading said that there are many reasons to purchase food locally. Foods picked locally look and taste better as they are at their peak of flavor. Livestock that is produced locally are raised by farmers who have a direct relationship with the factories that process the meat, unlike large, industrial facilities. Other products, like cheese or breads, are hand-crafted to provide the ultimate in flavor.
“Local food is much better for you,” Mr. Reading said. “Take local honey, for example. Honey produced where you live actually has properties to help fight off local viruses, unlike honey manufactured elsewhere and shipped in. I know where my ingredients are coming from and how that farmer has raised them. I know it is safe and, because it is fresh, has more nutrients than foods shipped across the country.”
Mr. Reading said that he likes “thinking outside the box” when he uses local produce. If peaches are in season, he doesn’t simply want to use them in a dessert, but a more savory option, such as turkey peach white chili. When strawberries are in season, he may make a strawberry chipotle barbecue sauce.
“Most chefs consider themselves cooks,” Mr. Reading said. “I don’t look at myself as a chef and almost every friend I have who is a chef does not consider themselves a chef. We like to cook, to provide food people will love and even to teach others to do what I do.” Abbott’s Grill offers monthly cooking classes with each class providing a different skill. The July class, which was held on July 25, provided information on cooking with beer. He said he has also taught basic skills, such as knife techniques many chefs use.
Summer is often a difficult time for restaurants in Milford as many citizens and visitors head to the beach on warm nights. Mr. Reading said that this was true of his restaurant the first few years, but now he finds that summer is just as busy as winter.
“We are able to review credit card reports and see where our customers are coming from,” Mr. Reading said. “Over the past month, we have had visitors from five states. People are actually driving from Rehoboth to eat at Abbott’s and I think our farm-to-table menu is part of the reason.” Mr. Reading says that the menu changes four or five times each year, based on what is available locally.