As the daylight hours shorten, the landscape gradually transforms from the rich greens of summertime into various autumn shades of gold in the farm fields. On the farm, that means one thing: harvest time! On our farm, we mainly grow field corn, soybeans, oats and hay. Some of these we grow organically, whereas others we use more conventional methods.
For the last eight years, our grocer and meat distributor customers across the country have raised money for the Niman Ranch Next Generation Scholarship Fund. Awards are given at our annual Farmer Appreciation Dinner, which celebrates our family farmers with a delicious meal prepared by top chefs from across the country.
It all started eight years ago at the 9th annual Farmer Appreciation Dinner. The first Next Generation Scholarship was given to a few children of our farmers with the intent of helping them pay for college so they could return to the farm. In its first year, the scholarship totaled $6,000.
“Chef, cook, creator, master of craft, innovator… This means nothing with great quality products. There is nothing like peeling back the brown butcher’s paper to reveal snow white fat glistening in the marbled pink flesh of naturally-raised Niman Ranch pork.”
Chef Carlos Patricio Villanueva is a Cuban-American born in Tampa, Florida, in 1985. Growing up in his Cuban grandmother’s house, he began to learn the importance of product freshness. Carlos helped his grandmother tend the family garden every year up until he left for college. The most important lesson he learned from his grandmother was that “to grow the best product, you must take care of your soil, and then let nature take its course.” This is one of the values Carlos finds most important as a chef today.
After graduating from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, Carlos continued his tenure at the CIA as a Teaching Assistant in their Meat and Fish Fabrication classes. It was there he would meet his later mentor, Chef Olivier Andreini CMC, who inspired his ambition to one day take the Certified Master Chef Exam.
Through his travels, Carlos has worked at two Michelin Star Sergi Arola Gastro in Madrid and three Michelin Star Martin Berasategui in San Sebastian, Spain. Upon returning to America, Carlos worked with James Beard Award winner Chef Tony Maws as Sous-Chef at Craigie on Main. Currently, Carlos is the Chef de Cuisine at Cloud Catering and Events in Long Island City, New York, where he and his team are changing peoples’ expectations of catering.
“Uncompromising quality and a genuine connection to the farms — that’s why I choose Niman Ranch Pork.”
Chef Gio Osso is one of Scottsdale’s top chefs, having overseen several nationally recognized restaurants in the Valley. Originally from New Jersey, Gio spent a considerable amount of time in Italy before calling Arizona his home.
His three year-old restaurant Virtù Honest Craft features contemporary cuisine inspired by Gio’s Mediterranean roots and global influences. It was recognized as one of the top 20 “Best New Restaurants in America” by Esquire Magazine and became a semifinalist for James Beard’s Best New Restaurant award. The menu changes weekly, featuring house-made pastas, superb seafood, new Mediterranean creations and rustic favorites.
Gio just opened his second restaurant in downtown Gilbert this past spring. Nico Heirloom Kitchen, named after his son, is more casual than Virtù. The open kitchen and patio herb garden create a comfortable yet upscale atmosphere. The cuisine ranges from light fare to a 50-ounce prime tomahawk rib eye, all focusing on Italian family recipes made with local ingredients.
“It is such a privilege to have access to fresh pork raised by an independent family farmer. Niman’s commitment to humane farming practices and their consortium business model should be the standard in our world’s food supply. I have never tasted anything better!”
Chef Paul Mattison grew up in New York cooking and gardening side by side with his Italian grandmother, Esther. He began his culinary career at age 15 in a local Greek restaurant and was encouraged by the restaurant’s owner to attend the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Upon graduating with honors from the CIA, he went to Aspen where he refined his skills over the next five years working at Piñons, a one-of-a-kind restaurant receiving top kudos from Zagat.
In 1991, Paul relocated to Sarasota, Florida, as the executive chef and proprietor of the Summerhouse Restaurant on Siesta Key. The Summerhouse quickly became a local treasure and institution, establishing Paul as a celebrated local chef. Each Mattison’s restaurant location is unique to its neighborhood, offering his signature menu items, outstanding service, and quality ingredients, while supporting the community, regional farmers, and culinary suppliers. Mattison’s Catering is a chef-owned and operated company procuring fresh, natural, and local ingredients.
Also known for his community-based efforts, Chef Paul Mattison received several national service awards. He gives culinary classes and demonstrations for charity organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, Girls Inc., Sarasota County, and Selby Gardens. Paul serves on the Advisory Board for Keiser College and Sarasota County Technical Institute’s Culinary Arts Program, and Sarasota’s Downtown Farmers’ Market. He also serves on the Board of Director for All Faiths Food Bank and Florida Winefest & Auction.
“To me, Niman Ranch is the pinnacle and gold standard of producing the highest quality animal products in the industry. Their unwavering commitment to outstanding sustainability and complete transparency of their products is unmatched. It makes me proud to serve my guests Niman Ranch products at my restaurant, as I know I am providing the best of the best in the industry.”
Enosh Kelley, owner/chef of Bistro Montage, isn’t describing the first time he saw the love of his life. At least, not the way you think:
“I remember what she looked like. What she wore. The expression on her face.”
He’s describing the first moment he realized he wanted to be a chef. At the time, he was working in a restaurant while going to business school at the University of Iowa. “One day I bought the ingredients for a dish I’d seen on Great Chefs—Great Cities. I took it all to work and served it as the special,” Kelley explains.
Seeing a customer enjoy that dish set the course for the rest of Kelley’s life. “Watching her eyebrows pop when she took the first bite of that dish, seeing the smile on her face, that was my ‘ah-ha’ moment,” he says.
Shortly after that experience, Kelley dropped out of business school and enrolled in New York’s prestigious Culinary Institute of America. While there, he fell in love with classic French food.
By the fall of 2001, Kelley had graduated from the Culinary Institute and moved back to Iowa. In 2003, when the former owner of Bistro Montage decided to sell, Kelley realized that buying the restaurant was the right move at the right time. Since becoming the owner and chef of Bistro Montage, Kelley has taken the restaurant to new heights—earning rave reviews from The Wall Street Journal and The Des Moines Register, as well as a Best Chef of the Midwest nomination by the James Beard Institute. Today, he continues to push the envelope with new takes on French classics—always with the goal of delighting his current customers as much as his first.
James Beard nominated Best Chef Midwest
5 Best Chefs In Des Moines: Enosh Kelly / Bistro Montage – MetroMix Magazine
“Niman Ranch has some of the best farmers in the country and continues to be a household name for chefs. As a consumer, you should be able to trust your farmers and the products that they produce. I know I do. I trust Niman Ranch farmers. These farmers are hardworking families that dedicate their lives to ensuring high quality meats. I believe in the the quality of Niman Ranch pork and also appreciate that their meat is raised humanely and sustainably. I respect the measures taken to ensure that their hogs are raised with care which in turn guarantees better tasting meat.”
Chef Joseph “JJ” Johnson is a James Beard-nominated Executive Chef at The Cecil and Minton’s, both based in Harlem, NY. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, he went on to hone his skills in some of New York’s most esteemed kitchens including Centro Vinoteca, Jane, and Tribeca Grill. In 2013, Chef JJ helped open The Cecil, NYC’s first Afro-Asian-American restaurant, with restaurateur Alexander Smalls, which was named Best New Restaurant of the Year in 2014 by Esquire Magazine. Soon after, he joined the kitchen of its sister restaurant Minton’s, the revived jazz supper club next door.
Chef JJ’s accolades include a nomination for a James Beard Foundation award for Rising Star Chef (2015), an award from Star Chefs as a Rising Star Community Chef (2015), being named as one of Observer’s “20 Under 40” list of extraordinary philanthropists (2016), Forbes’ 30 Under 30, Zagat’s 30 Under 30, and Eater Young Guns (all in 2014), and being recognized as Chef of the Year by New York African Restaurant Week (2015).
According to the latest USDA Census of Agriculture, farmers over the age of 65 outnumber farmers under the age of 35 by a ratio of 6-to-1. While the average age of a Niman Ranch farmer is 48 years old, the average age in America sits at 58 years. What opportunities exist to grow the number of young farmers nationally?
Because of a host of barriers not faced by previous generations, many young farmers are unable to start their own farm or take over the family business. We’ve seen issues range from skyrocketing land prices and student loan debt to difficulty taking out reasonable loans or finding reliable work. Inheriting land isn’t enough to allow for a farm to thrive financially these days, and with more than one child in many farm families, most of those who vie to take over have to find their own land regardless.
National FFA Week is the (second) most wonderful time of the year for me as an FFA Member and Niman Ranch Farmer! I serve as our FFA chapter’s Vice President, and help to plan many of the events that go on throughout this celebratory week. Our activities align with their motto: “Learning to do, doing to learn, earning to live, living to serve”.