An original: Silver Grille adopted farm-to-fork early

February 2016 Posted in Business, Food & Drink

By Melissa Wagoner

Jeff Nizlek is telling a story of the seasons in the Willamette Valley and his story is edible. Head chef and owner of the Silver Grille, Nizlek has an inquisitive mind and has taught himself how to cook using mostly local products and to cut waste by making nearly everything himself.

By learning to butcher whole animals in order to utilize every part, fermenting vegetables in season, making his own cheeses, breads and pastas and more Nizlek has not only cut costs but these techniques keep his menu fresh and exciting even in winter.

“It took 11 years to figure out what farm to table is. It’s not just going down to the farmstand,” Nizlek said. “It’s all that process of fermentation, canning and drying. All of it is a big step in how you utilize 100 percent of your product.”

Nizlek purchased the Silver Grille in 2000 after seeing an ad in the newspaper. “I had cooked up until about a year prior to. I was doing mortgages in the hope of coming up with quick money. I was looking into getting back into food service,” Nizlek said. “At that point in time I had a lot of ideas with the uninitiated intelligence of youth.”

Nizlek, 32 at the time, had a dream of owning a farm that would sustain a restaurant hosted on the same property. What he discovered was farming and owning a restaurant are both time consuming endeavors.

“There’s a lot of work for a farm and there’s a lot of work for a restaurant. Neither one, I understand, makes a whole lot of money,” Nizlek mused.

Although the Silver Grille is in a commercial building in downtown Silverton, Nizlek did find a way to grow much of his own produce by utilizing 6,000 square feet of greenhouse owned by the family of his wife Naomi, as well as on his own quarter acre. Growing both annual plants as well as perennials such as grapes, apples, pears and herbs keeps the couple busy during the hours that are not spent at the restaurant.

Although the hours are long Nizlek thinks the end result is worth it because of the superior taste of food grown fresh in the Willamette Valley. It’s an element that’s becoming more popular as the local food movement becomes more important in Oregon.

“We’re fortunate that people do have a certain level of interest,” Nizlek said.

Although Silver Grille was a forerunner in the farm-to-table movement in this area, there are now several restaurants that are hosting an array of locally sourced dishes. Nizlek thinks that makes sense considering the long growing season in the valley and the personality that Silverton imbues. Combined, these factors make a perfect match for restaurants like the Silver Grille that have something unique to offer.

“I think everything about Silverton has kind of taken on that,” Nizlek said. “Every single restaurant that’s doing pretty well has a following and I think that’s great.”

Although Nizlek gets a fair amount of tourists visiting his restaurant, he has many residents who support him. “A good portion of the clientele comes in weekly,” Nizlek said.

For those who are repeat customers the Silver Grille offers a unique opportunity that few restaurants do, the chance to try something new on a regular basis. Because Nizlek changes his menu according to the ingredients he can source locally, he alters his menu an estimated 140 times a year reflecting the seasons and painting a picture of what is growing outside.

“The more you eat within that framework you start to become more attuned to it,” Nizlek said.

Although running a restaurant that grows and produces much of its own food is time consuming – Nizlek will often work for 11 months straight without a day off – he can’t imagine doing anything else.

“I don’t even leave the building,” Nizlek said. “I haven’t seen the front of the building for three weeks but I’m more than happy.”

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.