Not So Fast

John Gabrovic, a founder of Slow Food Orlando and the Harmoni restaurants, favors food that is locally produced.



Photo By Norma Lopez Molina

John Gabrovic sits at a table at Harmoni Market, the College Park restaurant he opened in 2006, extolling the virtues of local food. What he says might irritate the organic crowd.

“We’re about the integrity of the food more than ‘organic,’” he says. “I would much prefer a local product than a label.”

Gabrovic, the founder and managing partner of the two Harmoni locations (Longwood opened in 2009), is a founding member of Slow Food Orlando, where the philosophy of good-tasting food, produced locally in a way that does not harm the environment or our health, is primary. He believes in responsible farming and buying produce in season; what he objects to is the organic mystique.

“I’m not a tree-hugger environmentalist,” he says. “I’m more of a food snob. In the end it has to be flavor.” If you’ve bitten into a tomato fresh from the garden, you’ll agree that local produce, allowed to fully ripen on the vine, tastes better.

Harmoni, with weathered wooden beams and a bistro atmosphere, was built to echo the Old World environs Gabrovic remembers from his 10 years of business school in Poland.

“Eating seasonally is a way of life in Europe,” he says. “When it’s strawberry season, everybody eats strawberries. When mushrooms are at their peak of freshness, you eat mushrooms. Nobody needs to eat plastic-tasting tomatoes year-round.”

To Gabrovic’s way of thinking, buying organic food that’s trucked 2,500 miles from California doesn’t help the environment, or the quality of the food. Michael Tiner, director of the Homegrown Food Co-op in Orlando, agrees and disagrees.

“Local is definitely important,” he says from the co-op’s recently expanded facility. “But organic is more important. We source from small organic farms only, but we will get apples from North Carolina or peaches from Georgia, because they don’t grow here.”

While the recession has hurt the more costly organic food market, the local food movement seems to have staying power. Orlando restaurants large and small are getting, and promoting, ingredients from local purveyors such as Winter Park Dairy and Deep Creek Ranch.

“We can show anyone every step of the process, from cow to package,” says David Green, owner of Winter Park Dairy and a hands-on cheese maker. “And our cheese has better flavor than something you buy at the supermarket.”

Gabrovic walks the walk, buying from as many local sources as fit the restaurant’s needs: seasonal tomatoes from Rest Haven Farms in Geneva; produce from Long & Scott Farms in Zellwood; rock shrimp from Cape Canaveral Seafood. At Harmoni, they make their own hand-stretched mozzarella every day.

“Organic is a cause,” Gabr-ovic says. “The local movement is a way of life. It’s here to stay.”

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