Three farms on one plate at Harold's in the Heights

By Jodie Eisenhardt / Photography By Francine Spiering | February 11, 2017
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Harold’s in the Heights’ lamb neck with caponata and herb salad

You can get typical cuts like rack of lamb anywhere,” says Antoine Ware, executive chef of Harold’s in the Heights, explaining his use of lamb neck, a cut seldom seen on restaurant menus, obtained from The Barry Farm in Needville.

He orders either whole animals or sides, butchers in-house and utilizes everything: “The legs got braised for a brunch dish and the bones went for stock,” says Ware, who is passionately committed to local sourcing of product across the board.

Owner Alli Jarrett’s philosophy is to “know our farmers”—meaning that for vegetables, eggs and proteins, they seek to support local and regional farmers as much as possible in order to support families they know and to provide guests (who they also want to know) with the freshest food available. “It’s nice to know these products aren’t traveling for weeks and weeks to get here,” says Jarrett, who does business with 16 different farmers. She’s intent on the commitment but is quick to point out: “It’s expensive, especially with regard to labor, because we do so much by hand.”

The bond runs deep between Ware and Geoffrey Smith of The Barry Farm. Ware clarifies, “He’s not just a farmer; we have a relationship. I depend on him.” The Barry Farm hosts frequent farm dinners, including one that recently featured cuisine by Ware to further build a sense of community and understanding of what it takes to maintain their high standards. These interactions, combined with the way animals are cared for, translates into product that Ware describes as consistent, fresh and “just better all-around.”

The word “local” gets tossed around a lot these days. Some might say it’s a marketing term with little meaning, which is why it’s more important than ever to ask questions about where food comes from. At Harold’s, the search for honest food was a commitment since Day One—even before the restaurant became a reality, when Ware and Jarrett met for coffee and realized their shared commitment to quality and local sourcing.

Landing in Houston from NOLA after Hurricane Katrina, Ware had “worked the line, doing traditional things,” at restaurants like the renowned Commander’s Palace before finding himself at Houston’s celebrated Catalan in 2005. He began to learn from Chris Shepherd and other notable chefs like Randy Evans, who were setting new standards for what it meant to source locally. He includes chefs Lyle Bento and Patrick Feges as influencers who enabled him to expand his culinary horizons—from the ingredients he uses to methods of preparation. “My career got better through the years because of these people,” he says.

The eggplant and tomatoes in the caponata come from Atkinson Farms, a fourth-generation farm in Spring. The chef has worked with the farm since his Catalan days. “We get some of the best product from them—it’s consistent,” says Ware.

From Oak Hollow Farm in Livingston, Ware receives a weekly supply of chemical-free, seasonal herbs and other freshly harvested produce. For the caponata, he loved the addition of the spicy/bitter mustard green tops and sweet pea shoots for contrasting texture and flavor. “Nan just showed up one day with these beautiful items and I’ve been buying from her ever since.”

He’s the first to acknowledge the challenges, including weather-related issues that affect yield and pricing. Recently, unusually warm fall weather impacted the size of mushrooms from Indian Creek Farm in Coldspring. “Robert gave us a heads up. We have to consider how to make it work on the plate and maintain our prices even though costs fluctuate,” says Ware. He credits relationships that enable planning while he remains open to ways of adapting and creativity in the kitchen.

“It’s not the easiest thing … it’s a huge commitment. But you can taste the inspiration from these relationships in the food. And there’s no turning back.”

Edible Houston Presents Chef Antoine Ware from Harold's in the Heights from michael chhay on Vimeo.

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