Bill Salsman started his restaurant career as a busboy at an antique mall restaurant in East Peoria when he was only a youth, but he soon developed a taste for a more savory career.
Salsman, of East Peoria, has owned the Black Angus Café business, located at 20235 Illinois Route 9, rural Pekin, for a year and a half. He rents the restaurant there. His sister owned it prior to that. He has been a cook for 28 years now, developing his talents through years of experience. People at the café call him “the chef.”
“I like meeting new people and being able to experiment with new menu items, recipes,” said Salsman. “I started as a busboy, but when it would get busy there I would sneak into the kitchen.
“I asked the owner if it was OK if I help. He said yes. So I went in there and that’s where I started.”
Black Angus Café is nestled in the rural countryside east of Pekin. One side of the facility is a farmer’s market and the other side, a small restaurant.
Salsman will get to showcase his talents in the Local Flavors Dinner Series from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 21. The series focuses on locally owned restaurants that use central Illinois farm products. Local Flavors dinners take place on the third Thursday of each month from June through October and rotate to a different restaurant each month.
“That was actually kind of a surprise,” said Salsman. “I hadn’t heard of Local Flavors, and they said they specialize in trying to buy local and restaurants that serve local.
“We kind of fit into that because everything (local Rancher Doug Sassman) has in (his) store we use in the restaurant, so during season we have fresh vegetables and everything. And then, of course, all of the meat we have is raised here locally.”
Sassman raises the beef on his local ranch. He owns the Heritage Farmer's Market and the restaurant building. The chicken and turkey comes from Greengold Acres near Hanna City. The pork comes from Eureka Locker.
All of the meats may be purchased in the farmers market. On Friday when the trucks arrive, fresh unfrozen meat may be purchased.
Salsman said he tries to keep produce and meat prices close to supermarket prices, though the farm grown product is “a little more expensive.”
“But, you’re getting a local raised product that has zero chemicals and all free range grazed,” said Salsman. “They’re just eating grass — not steroids or anything like that in the meat. So price-wise it’s comparable, and for the quality you’re getting, it’s actually on the low side of the price compared to your supermarket.”
Chefs from participating restaurants are asked to create a “Local Flavors Special” featuring seasonal produce and proteins sourced directly from central Illinois farmers on the dinner date. Salsman has not yet decided on a dish to serve on the day of the event because the growing season has been so difficult and he doesn’t know what fresh vegetables will be available, he said.
Local Flavors is organized by the Illinois Stewardship Alliance in conjunction with local partners, including the University of Illinois Extension for Mason, Peoria and Tazewell counties; the Peoria City Government Office of Sustainability; and the Peoria Riverfront Market. According to a 2011 Ken Meter Study, if central Illinois shoppers bought 15 percent of their food directly from their local farmers it would generate $639 million in new income annually for the region. Restaurants buying direct from local farmers stand to create an even larger impact, according to a Local Flavors press release.
Salsman said there are many advantages to using locally grown products.
“One is for health reasons,” said Salsman. “And one is for keeping money in your community — that’s the most important because most of the foods that you buy in the grocery store come from other communities, other states and even other countries.
“All of that money that you spend gets sent back to them instead of your own community. So we kind of suffer. Also with local, you know the people firsthand, so you know what you’re getting — a good quality product, no chemicals or GMOs of any kind. We are seeing more customers. Most of the customers who come in like it here, because it’s more of a home-cooked meal, something they would cook at their house or at their grandparents.”
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Editor's note: This article has been changed to reflect that Rancher Doug Sassman owns the Heritage Farmer's Market that is next door to the Black Angus Café. Salsman owns the restaurant business and rents the facility from Sassman.