Ode To A Farm-To-Table Farmer

Pioneer Chris Mumford hosts a farm dinner in his garden.

This is a paean to Chris Mumford, farmer, chef, teacher, pioneer.

It is high summer, and anyone who remembers Mumford’s Unique American Cuisine—the restaurant on Ocean Boulevard at Atlantic Avenue in Long Branch that did what no restaurant was doing anywhere, let alone in a city too many had left for economically dead—remembers Chris Mumford’s use of every inch of soil in and around that two-story structure.

There were vegetables of every type, micro-seasonally planted and grown and harvested; there were greens, lettuces and herbs, all of them seemingly cascading from the earth and boxes and trellises; there were fruits, bushes and planters and maybe even some potted.

There was Chris, constantly tending, planting, pruning, harvesting, washing, plotting and, finally, cooking for his diners every night.

Of course, it was organic. (He would have it no other way.)

Anyone driving down that stretch of Ocean in Long Branch in those days, a glorious Mumford’s-driven decade that began in 1989 and stretched till 1998, would have to wonder what kind of strange, miraculous trip they were taking: For there was a fellow, typically white-T-shirted, farming on patches of land that were, frankly, catch-as-catch-can, and filling bushels and baskets and trays with glorious produce.

Farm-to-table never had it so good. And that’s plain, straight-talking fact. Cause anyone (and it’s quickly careening to everyone, frankly) doing farm-to-table today has the chef-farmer pioneer Chris Mumford to credit, as the most inspiring of guides—since he did it sooner and under more challenging circumstances than anyone.

If you are a farmers’ market junkie, and we’re a growing population (no pun intended), you can still be inspired by Chris Mumford. Today he grows on a good acre in Tinton Falls, his produce servicing Mumford’s Culinary Center, which encompasses Mumford’s Cafe, special dinners, catering and classes.

Run by Chris and his wife Debbie, winner of Best Pastry Chef in the 2017 Garden State Culinary Arts Awards, the cafe currently serves breakfast and lunch. However, if you miss, and are craving, an all-out Chris-and-Debbie-Mumford dinner, you are in luck—if you act quickly.

On Thursday, September 7, starting at 6:30 pm, the Mumfords will cook and host a “Dinner in the Garden”—yes, right in the middle of their farm. (The Mumfords call it their garden, but to me it’s a farm.)

“Seating will be at community tables, and each course will be served family-style,” the Mumfords note. The evening also will include a tour of the garden/farm.

Cost is $70 per person, not including tax and tip. Reservations are required and can be made by calling 732-747-7646.

Mumford’s Cafe is located at Mumford’s Culinary Center, 33 Apple Street in Tinton Falls.

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