Farm-to-Table Talk with Eric Murphy & Erin Kem
Arlington’s Shamrock Farm offers delicate mushrooms to Regina Mehallick’s R Bistro, a Mass Ave spot long known for celebrating local ingredients.
“I always know Eric is on his way when I see ‘The Creeper’ pull up the street,” says R Bistro executive chef Erin Kem, referencing the nickname of the navy-blue former FBI surveillance van Eric Murphy drives to deliver his mushrooms to Indy-area restaurants. The van is a perfect fit for the bald, mustachioed Murphy, who also works weekly shifts as a firefighter. Kem nearly swoons describing the shiitakes and portobellos Murphy raises in a climate-controlled room at Shamrock Farm. “They’re gorgeous, absolutely pristine,” Kem says. “That umami—I can’t get enough of it.”
R Bistro has sourced locally for more than a decade. How did Shamrock Farm get picked?
Murphy: I started raising mushrooms about three years ago when I bought the mushroom business originally founded by Steve and Anita Spencer in Sheridan. I just cold-called R Bistro and brought them some of my mushrooms. They’ve been buying them ever since.
Kem: We had a couple of people forage mushrooms for us in the past, but once we saw Eric’s mushrooms, we knew we had to have them on the menu. I really appreciate that Eric will text me to let me know about the availability of his produce—we also get his spinach, kale, and kohlrabi—a couple of weeks in advance. And we sometimes share our menu with him. It helps me plan, and on occasion I’m glad to help Eric by taking some of his extra produce.
Why is a good rapport essential?
Kem: Knowing and being able to trust a farmer really gives more credence to what we’re doing in the restaurant. If you can tell your customer where the product came from, it gives you a transparency that diners these days expect.
Murphy: Farming can get pretty lonely. You’re out here by yourself, and you’re so concerned with temperature and pH levels and your growing mediums, such as peat moss and hydrolyzed lime. Working with chefs gives you the positive reinforcement that you’re doing a good job and that people are appreciating your product. I took Erin’s shiitake ice cream, along with a mushroom soup I made, to an Arc of Indiana fundraiser last fall, and it was so much fun to see the chefs coming back for second helpings.
This article appeared in the August 2015 issue.