Chef Matt Balke, of Bolsa and Bolsa Mercado, uses local, organic produce in his culinary creations every day. He hails from South Texas, where his mother keeps an extensive garden of seasonal fruits and vegetables: “I guess you can say it’s our bonding time or maybe she just sees me as free labor,” he says. “Either way we always eat good that night.” Balke currently lives in Uptown, but he has plans to move to Oak Cliff by next summer. Bolsa buys organic tomatoes from We Over Me Farm at Paul Quinn College, five minutes south of downtown on Interstate 45. The “We Over Me tomato salad” is a new addition to their menu.

How did you get into cooking?

I have always loved to cook and after college, I attended the (Culinary Institute of America) in New York. It’s a true passion profession. TV shows and magazine covers are not what make you a successful chef.

Bolsa’s menu is primarily made up of local produce. Why is that important, and how do customers like it?

People today are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of local products and what it can do to help out a local community and economy. People want to know where their food comes from. Using local produce allows us to share the farmers’ vision and products with thousands of customers each week and helps to get their names out there. Also, customers really enjoy knowing that the steak/tomato/cheese/ect. comes from less than 100 miles away and that we’re able to tell a story about the farmer and his products. And it always tastes better.

How does locally grown food compare to commercially grown food?

No comparison. Let’s take tomatoes, for example. Mass-produced tomatoes are picked early and ripened in rooms in boxes. They are usually tough, tasteless, and cost more than what a farmer charges. Local tomatoes are usually picked the night before or day of and delivered to your door within hours, usually still hot from the sun. Then, the farmers gives you a quick story about the product (rabbits ate the other 5 pounds, it gets a few hours in the shade, had hell growing it this year, etc.) that lets you know more about what they do to bring you such quality products. I’ll eat local any day. We are also able to build relationships with farmers and in turn have them plant produce that we will use the next season. This way we can support each other all year long and know the product we receive will always be what we want.