Chef Randy Gresham, Central Restaurant, Montgomery, Alabama

Chef Randy Gresham Jr. of Montgomery, Ala., passionately promotes local farm foods and products.

“Food, to me, is about finding the best possible ingredients and doing everything in your power not to mess with them,” he says. However, Gresham is more than a chef – he’s a proponent of the local farm-to-table movement and a supporter of EAT South, which promotes the principles of food justice and educates others about the food cycle.

He’s inspired by both past and present, from childhood memories of comfort foods, like Swedish meatballs and cucumber salad, to being involved in food selection today, including harvesting vegetables himself.

Goat cheese and honey tart, Central Restaurant, Montgomery, Alabama

Educate, Act, Transform

EAT South stands for Educate, Act, Transform. Gresham says his position in the community is helpful in promoting EAT South’s mission.

“My position as a chef has allowed me to talk to a larger audience about organizations such as EAT South than they could possibly reach alone,” he says.

Gresham essentially inherited the EAT South relationship. The former chef of Central established a relationship with the nonprofit prior to Gresham’s arrival in Alabama in January 2014, and Gresham happily adopted a hands-on role.

“I have made it a mission of mine to do everything I can to promote local products and suppliers,” he says. “Everything from rabbit to pork to produce to honey is sourced as sustainable and local as we can.”

EAT South began as a community garden in Hampstead in 2007. Today, the nonprofit partners with other local, sustainable farmers through events and community projects, including school garden programs, field trips to the organization’s urban, sustainable farm in downtown Montgomery, and initiatives that make fruits and veggies more accessible – and affordable – for all.

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“Our programs link direct, positive experiences with healthy food that tastes great with teacher training, nutrition information, and a broader awareness of the food system both in schools and on our farm,” says Liz Laroche, interim director and community outreach coordinator for EAT South.

Laroche attests that Gresham has been a powerful ally for the organization.

“We love working with Chef Randy,” Laroche says. “I hear over and over how he has really connected with the community in ways that no one before him has, and I can absolutely validate that point.

“He is a fantastic chef, but that’s usually one of the last things I mention because I’m always raving about how he is such a down-to- earth, humble and dedicated friend to EAT South, sustainable Alabama farmers, and Montgomery as a whole.”

Chef Randy Gresham, Central Restaurant, Montgomery, Alabama 2

Relationships and Connections

In fall 2015, EAT South hosted The Harvest Table family-style feast benefit, and Gresham played a direct role by cooking, attending meetings, creating a beautiful, vegetable-centric menu, collaborating with sustainable farmers, and even harvesting veggies with EAT South before the event.

“Planning and executing true farm-to-fork dinners such as the one we did at the Downtown Farm is an experience in and of itself,” Gresham says. “Being out there on Wednesday morning harvesting the produce with the farmers we would then serve on Thursday night is an emotional attachment. At the end of the day, isn’t that what eating is? Or at least should be?”

In today’s climate, where there is often a loss of appreciation for where food comes from, Gresham considers programs such as EAT South to be necessary.

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“We talk about local responsibility a lot,” he says. “It is the idea that we form relationships and connections with those in the surrounding area, and it is mutually beneficial that we support each other.”

When it comes to food selection for the restaurant, Gresham is in communication with 10 to 15 different suppliers and vendors on a weekly basis; most restaurants only work with two to four.

“It takes a lot of organization and drive to keep up with that many things,” Gresham says. “The difference is that it matters. It matters that we support local producers. It matters how that food was raised. It matters that the people growing and raising our products are just as passionate about the process as we are about the finished plate.”

To learn more about EAT South, visit eatsouth.org.

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