“Farm to Table” Concept Offers Several Challenges to F&B Operations
By Edward Allen Executive Chef, Foxwoods Resort Casino | August 03, 2014
The term "Farm to Table" was created back in the 1970's by chef Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. Since then, the term has become popularized across the country in restaurants and dining establishments. The "farm to table" movement has now become the norm across the nation and the restaurant and hospitality industry has made it a point to implement local and sustainable practices into their establishments. People are now paying attention to where their food is coming from when they serve it at home, and they expect the same thoughtfulness to be applied while on vacation or out to dinner.
Chefs have long established relationships with local farmers, but it wasn't as promoted as it has become in the past several years. Now, the names of farmers and purveyors are listed on the menu under descriptions of the dish. Chefs unanimously agree "buy the best products to produce the best dishes" and farm fresh products are superior in flavor, freshness and nutrition. It is important to guests to know where their food comes from and to know that the establishments they are dining in are investing back into their community as well as the quality of the ingredients that they are using in their food. Buying locally is also an important way to show that you are a good neighbor in the community
Although most operators will agree there are many great reasons to pursue the use of local products into their operations many hesitate to do so, why? Cost, distribution, infrastructure, understanding and knowledge are a few of the reasons that I often hear, all are valid concerns, but in my opinion can be overcome and well worth it!
First you must decide what it is that you want to do; most will not be able to take the holistic approach, "everything in the operation", some things may not make sense. At Foxwoods we have integrated local products into many of our outlets and will expand overtime. This approach allows us to establish solid relationships with the farmers, they are great promoters and educators, and they help to "sell" to both our team members and our guest the benefits of farm fresh naturally raised food. We are lucky in the Northeast because we have the best produce seasonally and we are close to the ocean, which makes it easier for us to get the best ingredients available locally and allow our guests to experience the freshness and flavor of the food that we serve them.
An important element to moving towards integrating your establishment to a more local food movement is: Understanding and Knowledge. It is important for chefs to know the stories behind the food, getting the staff's commitment to the vision, and training to handle the products correctly. Chefs and their kitchen teams need to be able to buy into the idea of why it is important to support local farms and provide better food to our valued guest. We invite the farmer to our kitchens to work with our Chefs and Front of House staff. My team then learns first-hand the importance of focusing on quality, not quantity. The farmers communicate with my team on seasonality/ availability; and they learn that when certain produce is in season and at its peak of freshness and quality, that is when it should be all over our menus. This not only provides our guests with fantastic tasting products but allows us to drive as much revenue, offsetting the increased expense, by utilizing 100% of the product on the menu.
I heard a chef use a carrot as a great example. He said "you must utilize the entire carrot- the skin, the juice, everything and have it incorporated into many menu items, not just one". We must be able to flex our menus, be very creative with 100% utilization, and expand our skills as culinarians. Can a vegetable be a center of the plate item? Sure it can. Chefs need to learn to use the entire animal and pair lesser used cuts of meat with the drivers to maximize utilization. Chefs need to develop the skills of their staff, learn new cooking techniques, and make it fun.