**Fine dining straight from the vine**
Cepe's Executive Chef Eugenio Iraci's claim that "We don't need to worry about year-round mushrooms" may sound a little outrageous. But Iraci always has Shimeji, Matsuki and Chanterelles on hand, as well as Oyster spores sprouting on shelf after shelf of his floor-to-ceiling, in-house humidor.
Like The Orchard and The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu, Cepe is one of the few restaurants in Beijing with access to land to develop their own ingredients. "Not all places around town have that luxury, to grow their own produce," gushed Lisa Minder-Wu of The Orchard.
Cepe, a restaurant that takes the fungi kingdom as its bread and butter, works with a local family farm to produce mushroom spores that are moved to the restaurant for further cultivation. At The Orchard, an endless variety of fruits and veggies are grown in the adjacent guoyuan to create favorites such as The Orchard Salad and the house Herb Chicken, whose entire "armor coat of herbs" is harvested meters from your table. Similarly, The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu's crispy, vegetable-stuffed Fritatta (now an all-time favorite) and accompanying Toasted Date Bread with apricot spread both rely on local crops, as does the strawberry-laden Schoolhouse Greens. For owners Liang Tang and James Spear, appreciation for the home-grown is an extension of a philosophy which seeks to respect neighborhood traditions.
This trend echoes the accelerating "Locavore" movement begun in San Francisco a few years ago, a call for conscientious consumers to eat foods grown within 100-miles of their homes. Often, energy efficiency is cited as a leading advantage of eating local produce. For Beijing chefs, proximity to the source of their ingredients also assures freshness and flavor. When Minder-Wu reflects on her experience in the U.S., she concludes, "When I go back, everything tastes like plastic. The tomatoes aren't red, there's no flavor. Most of the stuff in Beijing is really fresh-it's not imported, like in the States."