Everyone's trying to survive the coronavirus the best they can. For Dallas chef Graham Dodds, that means going to work on a farm.
Dodds, who has worked at restaurants such as Bolsa, Wayward Sons, and Central 214, is taking the forced downtime that COVID-19 has inflicted and moved to New Frontier Farm in Corsicana.
The chef has been one of Dallas' earliest champions of the locavore movement and using locally-grown produce, so this meshes with something that's been a longtime obsession.
"I've always been so incredibly passionate about where our food comes from and how it's produced — with supporting our precious local farms and serving healthy and nutritious food," Dodds says. "With the Dallas restaurant world on hold, I took this opportunity to completely immerse myself in the farm life that's captivated me for years."
New Frontier Farm was founded in 2010 by Cliff Patterson and Betina Hawkins, whose original motives were to find food independence. Their operation grew to the point that they were producing enough to sell to friends and local farmers markets.
Their farm includes a number of acres including fruit and nut trees — pecans, wild grapes, figs, plums — plus a greenhouse for year-round production. There's also a menagerie of animals including a herd of more than 70 goats, plus ducks and chickens.
Dodds became acquainted with the operation when he did a farm-to-table dinner there in 2014.
"I've bought produce from Betina throughout the years, and have always been a huge supporter of what she does," Dodds says.
The farm has a store onsite where they sell eggs, preserves, and produce; they're currently featuring kale and beet greens. Dodds is already contributing to the larder, whipping up a batch of cornbread for sale.
New Frontier works with a nonprofit called World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), where people come from Europe and other countries come and work with them on the farm in exchange for room and board and the opportunity to visit and travel; they're dubbed "wwoofers."
"They have this little RV for the wwoofers to live and it was empty, so that's where I'm staying," Dodds says. "I'm just joining in the routine of doing chores, feeding animals, putting in a little herb garden with flowers for the bees. It's been a joy to be outside, and I found a few little patches of wild arugula — that was neat."
Dodds most recently was affiliated with the Mayor's House, a coming-soon restaurant in Oak Cliff with whom he parted ways even before COVID-19. He did some one-off dinners and was in the running for a position at the new Kimpton Pittman Hotel in Deep Ellum; Dodds worked with Kimpton when they were running the former Hotel Palomar (now Highland Dallas).
This isn't permanent; he'll eventually return to being a chef.
"I didn't know how long this corona madness was going to keep going, and I knew I didn't want to be sitting and watching Netflix," he says. "I've always loved this side of the business, but I've never had a green thumb and I'm already getting to learn something from my experience here."