FOOD- THE DISH- Here a pig: Chipolte inaugurates 'buy local' here

This little piggy: Nelson County farmer Richard Bean got arrested last year for selling pork to local restaurants. Now Chipotle is buying local pork from Swoope, Virginia farmer Joel Salatin.

In a front page story in the Washington Post last week, gourmet burrito chain Chipotle Mexican Grill, with 700 stores nationwide, announced plans to begin using locally raised pork. And to the delight of local "buy local" fans, the company chose its Charlottesville restaurant in the Barracks Road Shopping Center as the place to kick off the program.

Working with Polyface Farm in Swoope (about 48 miles away), which has been supplying fresh ingredients to local restaurants for several years, Chipotle executives say they hope to serve 100 percent Polyface pork in the Charlottesville restaurant beginning this month.

"That's great news," says Melissa Wiley, head of the Piedmont Environmental Council's Buy Fresh, Buy Local initiative. "We hope it will inspire other local restaurants and chains, to show them what's possible."

That seems to be a tall order, as the Post reports that 350 pounds of pork are gobbled up at the Charlottesville restaurant every day. According to the article, Chipotle has been working with Polyface for 17 months on the arrangement and has faced considerable hurdles in the attempt to buy local.

(Indeed, Nelson County pig farmers Richard Bean and Jean Rinaldi were arrested last year for violating FDA regulations regarding the processing and labeling of their pork products, and an entire roasting pig the South African restaurant Shebeen bought from them was destroyed on the spot with a bleach solution by Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services agents.)

Chipotle had originally thought of buying Polyface Farm chickens as well, but FDA slaughtering regulations were too strict. As it is, to satisfy FDA regulations, the company has had to invest in a temperature-monitoring system for Polyface's un-refrigerated delivery trucks.

In addition, while Wiley would call a sudden Chipotle-inspired increase in buying local "a good problem to have," she worries that local farmers might not be prepared to meet such demand.

"There's a real lack of infrastructure in place," she says. "Farmers are going to need help with distribution, processing, and marketing." As she points out, of the hundreds of small farms in the area, few are equipped to provide such a volume of produce. 

"There's a huge cost to doing things this way," Phil Petrilli, a Chipotle operations director, told the Post. "We're spending money to find out how and if we can bring small farmers with our values into the system."

Chipotle clearly seems to be a restaurant chain with a social conscience. As Dish reported in January, the company has already committed to the goal of serving 100 percent naturally raised meats, and last year the Charlottesville Planning Commission gave the company an award for extending its handicapped access across the access road at Barracks Road Shopping Center to the public sidewalk on Emmet Street, something the company was not required to do.

Where's José?

Hotcakes owner Keith Rosenfeld wanted us to know that the infamous José De Brito, former chef-owner of the French-inspired bistro and food emporium Ciboulette (now home to Orzo in the Main Street Market), has been holding forth on Friday and Saturday nights at the Barracks Road Shopping Center eatery.

The controversial chef had a loyal following who braved his sometimes imperfect manner because they loved his cheese, wine, and cooking so much. In fact, Rosenfeld reminded us that De Brito devotees formed a group called Friends of Ciboulette in the last two years of the bistro's existence, with each member chipping in several hundred dollars to keep his business going. When we reported on Ciboulette's closing, distraught foodies called the Hook to ask where De Brito had landed.

Rosenfeld says that De Brito's reputation is such that folks from as far away as Washington, D.C. have already come by, including the general manager of the Inn at Little Washington.

"It's really high-end stuff," says Rosenfeld of De Brito's menu, which changes every week.

Gourmet Mexican on the Mall

Former Kiki Cafe co-owner Michael Fitzgerald tells Dish he's purchased the space from his old partner, Jeannie Brown, and plans to reopen it in a week or two as Ventana (which means "window" in Spanish). He's also enlisted the help of Howard Griffin of L'Avventura and Il Cane Pazzo to bring his Mexican vision to life.

"I'm originally from LA," says Fitzgerald, "and I noticed there weren't any real high-end Mexican restaurants around. We want to take it up a notch." Just like Kiki, Fitzgerald assures us that Ventana will have a happening late-night scene.

City Market to open

Don't forget: the City Market is opening April 5 and will be open every Saturday 7am-noon through October in the Water Street parking lot.