Local seasonal movement

Restaurants Sourcing local productsImage

It’s a much harder option…… But it is an option.

There is a growing movement happening in the culinary world. Chefs are starting to turn to local farmers in order to fill their larders. We as Chefs have always touted the need to use local produce in season, but commitment to the cause in most cases has been purely lip service. However this is changing. More and more customers are interested in the origin of the food they buy, and more and more chefs want to have a positive influence on their immediate epicurean surroundings.

consider these two scenarios:

Scenario no1 – chef 1 finds a local chicken farmer who is happy for him to come and visit the farm. He says he can supply X amount of birds when they reach maturity in 18 weeks. 18 weeks later the chef collects the whole birds plucked and gutted. because he had to order them so far in advance he has ordered substantially more than what is required for one function. The birds are therefore processed into various cuts and products that add value such as confit, terrine etc. because of the effort put in by the farmers these birds cost almost twice the price of their supermarket battery cousins.

Scenario no2 – chef 2 rings the supplier on Monday and orders 8 kg of chicken breast. On Tuesday 8 kg of breast from an untraceable source arrives, these can go straight into a pan to be served to the customers without any further preparation.

Now let me pose 2 questions / statements relating to the above scenarios. Which format do you think sounds like it takes more organisation and effort ( answer is obvious) , do you think ethically you can afford “not” to invest this amount of effort into your food sourcing practices?, considering the effect of good animal husbandry on meat quality. If you are anything like me quality means everything, whether you are preparing a simple charcoal grilled chicken supreme or a more elaborate preparation such as pâté en croute you have more control over the quality if you have the opportunity to be selective over where the product comes from and how it was reared or grown.

It has to be mentioned that buying local does not always guarantee quality. Even battery chicken farms are local to someone, the term local is of course referring to the places who do welcome you with open arms to visit, these are providers who relish in the opportunity to talk to interested people about the way they raise livestock or grow produce. Farmers who grow a diverse range of vegetables and rotate those stocks. Anyone who has a vegetable garden will tell you that planting too much of a particular crop is never as successful as planting smaller plots of many different things. And where possible more than one type of the same variety.

There is a strong demand for food that can be traced paddock to plate or fork to fork. There is a certain facet of the market that is willing to pay the premium that needs to be charged for such food, after all the farmers have invested a lot more effort, the chef has invested more time and all of this comes at a cost.

I remember back in 2001 I asked my employer at the restaurant on Fitzroy street st kilda if he would mind me planting a herb garden on the roof in poly boxes. He not only agreed but paid for new dirt, seeds and paid me to come into work on the days it took to put the garden together. I now realise how forward thinking he was, he could see that anything that encouraged inspiration in his chef was going to inevitably transfer to good food on the plate. I don’t know a single chef worth their salt who doesn’t get all giddy when they see great produce in a garden, the best meals are born this way.

Lets look at a few of the market leaders who are champions for the local seasonal cause.
There is of course alice waters at chez Panise, when I read the chez Panise menu cookbook as a 4th year apprentice It inspired me more than any book has since. The idea that she let the ingredients drive the direction of the menu and everything came from her own garden or people she knew was revolutionary for me. I still read the introduction to this book whenever I need to rejuvenate my creative juices.
Thomas Keller – the French laundry cookbook has whole chapters devoted to the people who supply his kitchen. Holding them up on a pedestal ( and rightfully so)
Noma – where Renee Redzepi has taken the whole local produce concept a step further and integrated foraging for wild ingredients into his restaurant concept.
Locally to Australia The Star Casino has built roof top gardens for one of its restaurants and a pop up garden has been installed on the top floor of a CBD parking lot in Melbourne where some of the cities best restaurants have garden plots to service their kitchens with herbs and simple veg.

“This can’t be done”…………” I already have overbearing costs”………
It can be done!……..and it can be profitable!………. It is just the harder option!

 

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One Response to “Local seasonal movement”

  1. Andrew Thompson Says:

    a lot rests on location. not that you cannot grow or source produce in the city but the establishments that have been doing this are mainly in rural and semi rural areas eg Grazing, Royal mail hotel etc. To think ahead and use glut or bulk seasonal produce should be part of every good chefs thinking proccess. a good whole organic local chook broken down to use the tenders for one thing, the breast for another, confit the legs, stock from the carcass and pate from the organs should be more profitable than single cuts but takes experience and skill to achieve. mabey, since ive met chefs who cant break a chook down, more emphisise needs to be placed on this subject in the training phase? incidently, bought 10 beutiful chooks a few weeks ago and smoked the breasts, confit the legs, terrine from the tenders and jus from the carcasse. soooo much better!

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