What is in this article?:
- Eberhard Müller: Growing something quite different
- Supplied own restaurants
- All about being niche grower
• Take a walk around Eberhard Muller's blocks of vegetables growing within earshot of the roaring cars practicing on Sebring, Florida’s famous racetrack, and you’ll come across crops rarely seen in the U.S. In fact, many Americans have never heard of some of them: mache, wild arugula, black kale, knob celery, fine leaf frisee and treviso chicory, and Mizuna mustard — all growing among more familiar baby head lettuce, carrots and leeks.
HE KNOWS what kind of veggies top chefs want: Former New York chef Eberhard Müller’s 180-acre Florida farm supplies them with the freshest — and most unusual — varieties.
Supplied own restaurants
“I wanted to supply my two restaurants,”he says, “and we did. That first year we grew everything you could imagine: onions, carrots, radishes, tomatoes and other things — name it, and we had it.
“Paulette had good access to restaurants in New York because she sold wine to them. She would go to them and they would want our vegetables. Other chefs were also curious about what I was doing and began to use our product because they saw we had quality.
“On Saturday night, we would drive to the farm on Long Island and harvest on Sunday. Then on Monday morning, we’d finish harvesting, load the produce in our car and drop it off at the restaurants. After a while, we decided this was going to kill us pretty fast. What should we do? Hire someone to help?”
They began adding acreage and now grow 180 acres of vegetables on Long Island plus that much more in Florida.
“We decided we either had to downsize or go full scale because it had become a business. I had to decide whether to stay in the restaurant business or go full-time with the farm. At that point, I’d been in the restaurant business close to 40 years. I decided it was time for a change.”
Although his career had been in restaurants, Müller did have some background in agriculture. He grew up in Nagold, a very small town in Germany’s Black Forest. His father, a baker, also had 60 acres of fruit trees and used the fruit in his pies, cakes and tarts. Müller helped care for the trees and, at the same time, absorbed a lot from observing European agriculture.
“Take the Swiss dairy farmers for an example. From their milk, they make cheese, then sell it to individuals. In a way, we’re following the European model, although the agriculture model there has changed, too. But there are still small farmers there who do a lot of individual business. We do it the same way they’ve been doing it.”
Since freshness countsfor just about everything, in Müller’s view, he gets his Florida produce to New York fast. After harvest, it is vacuum cooled, then trucked to his customers as quickly as possible.
“Nothing is stored,” he says. “The trucker leaves here and in 24 hours, he’s in New York.”
The produce is delivered to Müller’s Long Island facility, and then goes to his New York customers as quickly as possible.
“The turnaround we offer is unmatched,” he says. “Even the wholesalers know the difference. The shelf life is better — the product is alive, it’s vibrant.”
About 40 percent of his products now go to New York restaurants, another 40 percent is sold to wholesalers and 20 percent goes directly to retail stores.
“Within 48 hours after we harvest it here, the wholesalers can get our product to their customers,” he says. “As for quality, there’s no comparison; we’re about as fast to the customer as we can be.”
Satur’s diversity of crops helps sales, as well.
“We’re growing a lot of crops that, relatively speaking, are not commercialized, aren’t available in huge quantities commercially. A lot are not available commercially yet.
“Take our radicchio, our leaf chicory. It’s an elongated variety called treviso, which has very good demand from our customers — and the pricing is very good. That’s the kind of thing we want to grow. Our customers are people who trust my judgment about what they should use.”
Müller was one of the firstto grow Yukon Gold potatoes, which he produced on his Long Island farms and, early on, sold for top prices. Once the variety became a commodity, he stopped planting it.