I’m not a native of Columbus, Ohio. In fact, I’m really not a native of any place; my father was in the Army, so we moved around most of my formative years. I can look back now and see how this experience was invaluable, though at the time I didn’t like it and there was something within me that craved stability. One way this manifested itself was the desire to have a “constant” in what I ate. My mother’s cooking provided a foundation for this, though the standardized menus of chain restaurants and fast food fulfilled the remaining desire for something familiar. In the wisdom of my years, I now know I never took advantage of the amazing opportunity I had to try the local cuisine of wherever we happened to call home: I shunned kimchi and bulgogi when we lived in Seoul; I turned my nose up at the artichokes of Castroville; I refused to eat the moose, caribou, and salmon the Alaskan landscape offered up (well, maybe not all of the salmon); I never tried the world-famous oysters and geoducks of the Puget Sound. As an angst-ridden youth, I may not have known where I’d be in school the following year, but I knew wherever I was, a Big Mac always tasted like a Big Mac—and there was comfort in that knowledge.
I’ve now called Columbus “home” for the past eleven years of my life. I began to appreciate the value of local cuisine when I began to travel—this time for pleasure rather than for relocation. What was the point of visiting Chicago and eating at a restaurant I could eat at in Columbus? And likewise, why would I want to eat something in Columbus I could eat anywhere? I’ve since thrown off the shackles of being bound to chain restaurants and have embraced the thriving Columbus food community. While there are several, valid arguments for eating local—reducing fuel costs/consumption of transporting exotic foods to local supermarkets; supporting local businesses; eating fresher produce—it just makes sense if you want the full experience of any given locale. Eating local isn’t just good for our environment and our economy, it’s one of those sublime qualities that make a region unique. Eating local feeds the soul as much as it nourishes the body.
In honor of Local Matters‘ upcoming Local Foods Week and Eat Local Challenge, I wanted to highlight two of my favorite local eateries, Kitchen Little in the North Market, and Skillet. While there are several shining examples of local restaurants that showcase local ingredients (Basi Italia, Alana’s Food and Wine, Katalina’s Cafe Corner, Black Creek Bistro, Tip Top Kitchen and Cocktails, and Knead Urban Diner to name only a few—and I would highly recommend you try any or, even better, all of these), Kitchen Little and Skillet embody what I believe to be the quintessential Ohio meal. In the following week, I will take a closer look at both of these restaurants.