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Going Local: Difficult, But Worth It

As the evidence of climate change and the impact of international shipping of goods piles up, and consumers become more and more conscious of where their food is coming from, the push to “go local,” as it’s called, has become more and more insistent. There are special challenges when it comes to making the shift to locally-produced fruits, vegetables, and meats--but with work and the right restaurant supplies, along with some thoughtful strategies, going local can be worth it for both restaurants and home cooks. There was a point in time before international shipping became so cost-effective, and imported produce so inexpensive, where most of what restaurants and home cooks alike had to choose from was locally-produced. In much of Europe and Asia, even now, there’s a sense of pride in cooking and preparing local ingredients for commercial and home tables alike. So why has it become so difficult for American restaurants to go local? There are a few reasons, the primary of which is that it requires setting up a network of providers, as opposed to going to one or two companies to supply all of the ingredients you need to keep the menu going. Shifting to local production of ingredients and components for dishes means having to seek out and maintain relationships with local sources: farmers, producers, and more. It also means doing homework to make sure that the operations meet with the guidelines that your restaurant needs from a regulatory perspective (of particular interest if you’re sourcing dairy or organic items locally). Then, too, the local availability is inherently going to be more limited than meat, dairy, and produce that can and is sourced from all over the world. Where major international operations can get the lowest possible cost for peak-of-season produce that comes from all over the world--negating the issue of seasonality and climate--going local means that during certain times of year, certain things just won’t be available. This inherently means that chefs have to be more flexible, and change menus frequently throughout the year in response to what is available. There are few places in the world that can allow for year-round, consistent access to everything that a chef could possibly need to keep the same menu going all the time--it just isn’t a possibility. With those challenges in mind, however, there are specific benefits. Reaching out to local farmers and producers means that the quality of the products you’re able to get is going to necessarily be higher. The smaller a distance the ingredients travel, the better condition they can remain in; it also means that instead of being picked green, key items--like tomatoes and peaches in summer, and root vegetables and squashes in winter--can be harvested at peak ripeness. Anyone who has eaten a vine-ripened tomato will tell you that it is an entirely different flavor experience from one that was picked green to keep it from bruising and then artificially ripened. In addition, local sourcing of produce and other items needed to prepare dishes means that there’s much more direct accountability. If--heaven forbid--a customer gets sick from something, there is an easy-to-follow chain of supply to discover where a problem happened. While customers have started to insist on low prices for their food as a primary enticement, as more and more chefs have incorporated locally-sourced ingredients into their menus, they’ve found that patrons respond strongly: better-tasting, higher-quality ingredients can demand a higher price. The best way to approach going local is to start small. Reach out and discover some local farmers who might be interested in supplying your restaurant with key ingredients for a season or two, and begin offering one dish or two that incorporate locally-sourced ingredients as a limited-availability item. Whatever your region produces the best, those are the items that should top the list of what to look for; it may even vary by season, allowing you to change menus throughout the year. Over time, you can reach out to more producers, and with the help of a few good restaurant supplies, you can gradually revamp your entire menu to include as many locally-sourced items as possible. With some local produce, meat, and dairy, you can create amazing dishes that will set your restaurant apart.
2018-05-07 00:00:00
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