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What you can learn about local food systems by cooking some butternut squash soup

Today on Food Trek: Host Tory Dahlhoff pulls the old food truck out of the garage, airs up the tires, swaps out the fryer grease, fires up the grill, and hits the road with Chef Ryan Smith to cook and chat with the owners of Sous Chef, a small grocery in downtown Peoria where they have written their own recipe for connecting local farmers to the community.

“Customers can come in and grab something that is partially prepped or fully prepped. That's the inspiration behind the name Sous Chef,” said Katie Couri Rodolfi, who owns the business with her brother Patrick Couri. “We've already washed, chopped, sometimes seasoned … we've done the prep on it to make your life that much easier.”

In the episode, Katie and Patrick show Food Trek Co-Host and local chef Ryan Smith how to make a butternut squash soup with 95% local ingredients. That includes the butternut squash from Hartz Produce and Hartz Little Red Barn in Wyoming, Ill., celery root from PrairiErth in Atlanta, Ill., and candy carrots from Blue Moon Farm in Urbana. That’s boiled in house-made vegetable stock.

Smith prepared a companion toasted Panzanella salad that features sourdough bread from his shop Ardor Breads & Provisions in Peoria, which is made with 100% whole grain flour from Janie's Mill in Ashkum.

Sous Chef’s other partners include Down River Farm in East Peoria and the group Down at the Farms out of Fairbury. Together, it’s a long list of suppliers with plenty of variety, Katie said.

“One of the things I've noticed is a lot of the farms working together a lot more than they ever have before,” Smith said.

Those in the local food space are finding each other, creating their own network, Katie said.

“And it is resilient. It's amazing,” she said. “Because, in 2020, when all of this started, this pandemic, and there were shortages everywhere … toilet paper could not be found. Our local farms still had everything that they had had for us in years prior, in the same or better quantities.”

Farmers markets in central Illinois have become so successful and have helped farmers grow and grow," Smith said. But they need somewhere to move their product other than just on Saturdays.

“I'm happy to be one of those outlets,” Katie said. “Yes, and most of it at this point is restaurants. In terms of groceries, I think there is a lot of space still. There is market opportunity that has been left on the table.”

Today’s episode was co-produced by Tory Dahlhoff and Allison Walsh, with music from Guitars.

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Tory Dahlhoff is a freelance reporter based at WCBU. He's also the host of the food and farming podcast Food Trek.