April 15, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sarah Farmer wakes each day to a stack of cookbooks teetering at her bedside. The colorful tower of culinary tomes includes works by Farmer’s favorite chefs—Susan Feniger, Sean Brock, April Bloomfield—alongside classics such as an 1895 cookbook gifted by Farmer’s grandmother.

“My collection inspires me. I like seeing how food and the industry evolve over time,” says Farmer, the sous chef at Lot 2 Restaurant and Wine Bar and a member of the team of young chefs who won the 2015 American Culinary Federation Student Team National Championship.

Like her stacked cache of gastronomic guidebooks, Farmer, 26, strives for balance in cuisine, career, and life.

Work-life balance took “a lot of acrobatics” when Farmer studied at Metropolitan Community College’s Institute for the Culinary Arts (ICA), worked three jobs, and practiced with Culinary Team Nebraska, which went on to win the Culinary Federation’s national title for college teams, an achievement Farmer calls “one of the proudest, most humbling moments of my life.”

“Sarah is tenacious, intelligent, talented, calm, engaged, kind, and open-hearted,” says Brian O’Malley, Culinary Team Nebraska Coach and executive director of Metro’s Institute for the Culinary Arts.

Farmer, a native of Rochester, N.Y., moved to Omaha in 2009. In 2012—after stints studying video communications and intercultural studies—she realized it was time to pursue her lifelong passion for food.

“It’s a great environment with a really interesting dynamic,” says Farmer, who graduated in 2015.

She credits faculty members like O’Malley for giving her the skill and confidence she needed to succeed. In 2013, she landed a job with the celebrated team at J. Coco.

“I just wanted to get my foot in the door working in a professional kitchen,” says Farmer, who pursued J. Coco because of chef/owner Jennifer Coco’s talent and reputation. “I also wanted to work for a female chef and get that perspective in my first job.”

Farmer’s current boss, Lot 2 Head Chef Joel Mahr, finds her creativity motivating.

“Her attitude on cuisine is much like how I pushed myself in the early years of cooking,” he says. “Finishing culinary school and getting a sous chef position right away says a lot about her work ethic.”

Farmer, who has also worked at Localmotive Food Truck and Le Bouillon, says she and Mahr share similar visions and a “refined yet approachable” style.

Farmer enjoys dining at favorites such as Avoli, Ika Ramen and Izakaya, Nite Owl, and Block 16. If time allows, she enjoys movies, music, biking, and dancing. She also enjoys reading beyond the pages of her stack of cookbooks.

“I love learning new things,” she says, noting particular interest in current events, biographical nonfiction, and fantasy/sci-fi. She just re-read Lord of the Rings—a favorite and “a nice escape that has nothing to do with food.”

Farmer also relishes her close group of supportive friends.

“They’ve been my biggest driving force in Omaha for pursuing big goals and dreams,” says Farmer, whose 5-year plan includes continued learning and growth.

“I’m still very new in my craft, and the success and accolades I’ve gotten are actually lots of pressure,” she says. “I feel like the rookie winning the World Series…how do I top that and continue to grow? I’d like to go somewhere else, learn more, then hopefully bring that back to Omaha.”

Chicago is one possible destination. Although Farmer says she’d miss Omaha’s “excellent culinary community,” she’s eager as ever to gain new insight.

For now, Farmer’s balancing act continues here—practicing her craft at Lot 2, celebrating life with her friends, and continuing to push forward.

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