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Fresh, local food still tops

OMG. LGP and LSMAS are hot - again.

Locally grown produce and locally sourced meats and seafood will continue to be among the top food trends in 2010.

Who says?

Area chefs, restaurant owners and more than 1,800 chefs polled by the National Restaurant Association believe fresh food close to home shall remain key to consumers when the New Year kicks off.

"Definitely, fresh food is what's happening," said Vincent Mezzapella, sous chef at The Landing Restaurant & Sports Pub in Myrtle Beach. "It's got to be fresh. It's got to be local, colorful and vibrant. For ecological and economical reasons, I want to get food as close to home as possible. I don't want to have it shipped from across the country."

Of the chefs surveyed by the association, 88 percent said locally grown produce was the No. 1 hot trend for next year, while 84 percent said locally sourced meats and seafood were hot trends. Those top two were followed by food sustainability (80 percent), bite-size or mini-desserts (79 percent) and locally-produced wine and beer (79 percent).

The Grand Strand just happens to be up on the hot trends and is already in step with the ongoing themes we will continue to experience and witness as we say goodbye to 2009.

Mini-desserts were already hot items at a variety of restaurants such as P.F. Chang's China Bistro in Myrtle Beach. Local wineries, including Hyman Vineyards in Conway and Silver Coast Winery in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., continue to cultivate a faithful wine following.

Local chicken, beef and especially seafood has generated a dedicated following of folks seeking out farmers markets and restaurants with such fare.

This dedicated movement of eating and buying locally even causes the S.C. Department of Agriculture in May to launch a program called Palmettovore. It encourages South Carolinians to only buy and eat products grown and produced in the state. North Carolina, New Jersey and other states have done the same.

So, you have to give the people what they want, and chefs here know exactly how to do that.

Mezzapella is constantly serving up local seafood, from the Baked Sampler appetizer featuring clams, oysters and shrimp to the lump crab meat that tops the chicken imperial sandwich. If it's local, he wants it - bad.

"Knowing that the fish you are eating was swimming in the ocean four hours ago is a cool thing," he said.

Numerous eateries here seek out what's local for reasons their owners and chefs figure foodies can only appreciate.

"I think people will continue to go green, be health conscious and be cost conscious," said Anne Hardee, who co-owns Bistro 217 in Pawleys Island, along with Executive Chef Adam Kirby. "Sustainable seafood, organic food, small plates and menus with a variety of appetizers will continue to be popular in 2010."

Kirby, who grows lots of herbs at home and at the restaurant, loves incorporating local produce into his entrees. He has taken butternut squash, diced it into cubes, added honey, brown sugar and roasted it to use as a garnish with fresh fish.

"Having good quality food is very important," Hardee said. "You just can't compromise on your consistency and quality."

Paul Jones said quality and consistency are indeed key reasons why folks will continue to prefer food grown at home.

An Aynor resident, Jones grows a plethora of produce, getting only his honey and onions from other state farms.

In this year alone, he supplied customers at local farmers markets with apples , blackberries, plums, peaches watermelon, cantaloupe, grapes, blueberries, squash and an array of other fruits and vegetables. He is adding figs to his repertoire and yellow Roma snap beans.

"Why not eat local?" Jones said. "We have some of the best farms in the country to grow produce on. So, it's going to be good. It's going to look appealing. If you want the best, and I've got the best, local is the way to go."