In search of the truth, Special Agents William Neal and Patrick Cuccaro explore the mysterious Green world of sustainable special events and catering. What myths will they shatter? What will they uncover?
The Truth is out there…so we’re told.
Welcome to Part II in a 3-part series we’re calling, “HEY YOU, WHAT’S FOR DINNER?“, which has a very specific agenda. Your Special Agents have made it their mission as foodies to help readers learn about the attention paid to food sourcing, the outlook for their long-term global viability and how chefs around the world are becoming some of the most ardent voices for sustainability. Today we’re exploring the chef’s world view. Plan on discovering information that will inspire you and learn about some incredible foods, all the while having fun with your favorite Green Team!
WILLIAM: I learned something interesting the other day from Chef Ashley Mitchell our Executive Sous Chef at Affairs to Remember Caterers. The Sales team was attending one of our many new menu items tastings. In these meetings we learn about, vet and refine new dishes that we plan to offer to our clients. The discussion was steered toward the concept of “local, farm-to-table” food sources and their place within our line of products. She mentioned that the real momentum in the hospitality world toward purchasing locally produced raw ingredients in restaurants, hotels, institutions and by caterers like us derived largely for reasons other than public demand.
PATRICK: Let me guess, somewhere along the line a situation developed where “the money talked and the California-grown veggies walked“, right?
WILLIAM: You called it right, Agent Cuccaro! Once the major foodservice distributors found out that they would SAVE MONEY by NOT sourcing and shipping cross-country, or in many cases even across continents, then the local farms and producers all across the nation started to get their attention. Of course, you have our revered farmers and producers whose mission it is to improve the world by producing local and organic foods. But, you also have many more farms run by folks simply trying to make a living for their family, the same as they have been for years.
So, this focus shift by the foodservice conglomerates became very good news for the local producers all across the country. Now they are sought after and many have even achieved notoriety, whereas before many were mostly anonymous.
PATRICK: I would imagine that when the big distributors get in the mix, they have great purchasing power that would benefit the local producers. But, I am sure it comes with a price.
WILLIAM: True. The jury is still out on the overall impact and price paid by the local producer who gets picked up by the big distributors. But clearly, demand for locally grown and oftentimes organic locally grown is way, way up.
PATRICK: American food culture in general is changing day by day for the better. As applied to food, restaurants and the chefs that make them successful, sustainability is no longer something on the wishlist but something on the primary checklist of most forward-thinking operators. Clearly the foodservice industry and its supply chains are trying to adjust and keep up with this burgeoning demand.
WILLIAM: The info I garnered from Chef Ashley made me look into the overall sustainable mindset of some of the world’s most respected chefs. I wanted to know how their selection of ingredients had an affect on the local farming community and the supply chain in general. I also wanted to know how the menus they write have evolved and if they now mostly conceived from locally sourced ingredients.
As I did my investigating, several things stood out as common among these culinary giants.
First, without exception, the whole concept of sustainability was tied directly to how chefs view the world in general AND, interestingly enough, how they feel about the people who work for them. The fact is, kitchens are labor intensive operations and a certain degree of “entry level” inexpensive labor is required for financial success.
Beyond providing jobs for the individuals who perform these necessary tasks for restaurants and the like, chefs typically donate a significant amount of time and resources to their local community. Food banks, fundraisers, vocational schools and charitable organizations are often supported by well-known chefs who offer their talents on a variety of local community projects.
PATRICK: I’m not seeing the connection. How does this relate to sustainability?
WILLIAM: Bear with me here…
Think about our food culture and how it has shifted. Yes, locally sourced food, healthy living AND community involvement are all tied together in the broader sense for the positive perpetuation of human sustainability.
But who benefits most from the community involvement of these superstar chefs? In many places around the world, it is the entry level folks—the local labor pool whose demographic populates the hospitality world in a very big way. These successful chefs know that by supporting the community, in a very holistic way, they are in turn supporting the very same folks they work side-by-side with every day of the week. They know that one of their main labor support systems must be sustained so their success depends on this all coming full circle.
But here is the DIRECT tie-in to being Green and sustainability in general from a chef’s world view…
Many of these community projects are directly related to being Green, sustainable initiatives, local sourcing and of course the massive culture shift toward the “farm-to-table” mega movement. In our particular craft of special events, the “Farm-to-Party” mentality is rich and touches many, due to the volume of people we serve.
PATRICK: Wow! Good stuff. When our investigations unearth rare gems of insight and knowledge about the foodservice industry, it gives me a real appreciation for our craft. This information, Agent Neal, gives me a deeper glimpse into what I call the sincerity of “a call to serve others” that most chefs possess as a natural part of their DNA.
WILLIAM: Looking at things through the lens of an investigator allows us to think through a person’s true motivation for what they do and how they do it. But even if you are not in the hospitality industry, there are many things individuals can do to support local farming and to be a part of the sustainability movement. Here’s a list from FoodTank that demonstrates How We Can Support the Local Food System.
PATRICK: For sure! Agent Neal, let’s get back to chefs, food sourcing and Green for a second… Who would you say is a role model for chef-driven, culinary-oriented sustainability?
WILLIAM: In Episode 25 we referenced a few folks, such as Barbara Kingslover and Chef Thomas Keller. But hands down, one of the most inspirational chefs who works tirelessly to promote sustainability is Chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill. Take a few minutes and watch this poignant and humorous look at the local and global food supply: Chef Dan Barber: How I Fell In Love With A Fish.
PATRICK: It is not often I get so enthralled as I did listening to Chef Barber. That presentation is a jewel.
WILLIAM: My investigations have uncovered some other great knowledge about the way chefs write menus.
PATRICK: I can hardly wait wait and I’m getting hungry already! Tell me what you uncovered, Agent Neal.
WILLIAM: Another common thread running through the minds of and influencing the world view of powerhouse chefs is the never-ending search for something unique. What sets one chef’s dish apart from another? Usually it’s either a unique technique OR in our case unique ingredients.
PATRICK: So what makes an ingredient unique? Is it something unfamiliar? Is it something with unusual flavor? Is it the pedigree?
WILLIAM: It’s all of the above! But let’s take a look at the element that seems to be influencing menus worldwide more than any other: pedigree. The source usually drives all of the positive elements a chef searches for.
PATRICK: Let me take a crack at this one. Flavor, freshness, uniqueness and price…is that correct?
WILLIAM: Right again, Agent Cuccaro! When chefs write menus incorporating these critical elements into their dishes, quality comes naturally. A perfectly ripe heirloom tomato from a local source, fresh milk from the local dairy lovingly made into hand-pulled mozzarella, aromatic basil from an on-premise chef’s garden, cold-pressed olive oil and aged balsamic…heaven on a plate! This is just a simple example of a dish everyone can relate to.
But, as chefs “up the ante” on their menus, all sorts of amazing things happen. Savvy local producers begin to see the names of their businesses and farms on menus as a sign of quality. Commerce is generated and the ripple effect to other local businesses becomes viral…and all because a chef decided to use a particular tomato. So you see, chefs wield some formidable power and deserve the respect they get when searching for ways to be sustainable.
PATRICK: Who are some of our local producers who have become “heroes” to chefs here in the South?
WILLIAM: Will Harris of White Oak Pastures immediately comes to mind. He was a pioneer in Georgia when it comes to the grass-fed method of feeding livestock. His meat products are highly sought after. A very interesting documentary on his farm and philosophy was done a few years ago and I recommend giving it a watch to learn about his family and his importance to our local chefs: CUD
PATRICK: Yes, he is a hero for sure. Speaking of grass-fed, check out this website that is a handy link to a consumer seeking grass-fed products, which drills down to the state level, including Georgia: Eat Wild
Agent Neal, this has been a terrific investigation. My goal for the next episode is to dive into specific ingredients and see how trends take shape in food. I want to give our readers some inspirational recipes and ideas for entertaining, as well. So, start your wheels turning, okay?
WILLIAM: You bet! I am working on a fantastic menu right now for an important industry event in the fall. Chefs Ahmad and Ashley have been tasked with coming up with something highly creative, yet accessible, to be served to some of the Southeast’s best chefs and restaurateurs. I an hardly wait to collaborate and build the framework of amazing style and excellent service around their menu. This is a perfect case study for us all!
To be continued…
How well do you know your local farmers? Do you get to know the farmers when you visit your local farmers market? Are you more likely to order a dish on a menu when the protein and produce are locally sourced? Please share with us your thoughts on this episode in the comments section. Thank you!
Join us in TWO WEEKS, on June 23, for the final installment of this 3-part series.
NOTE: Our special agents are frequently undercover for in-depth investigations. They will be reporting in every two weeks.
This week’s 3Rs…
REVEALED: Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood WATCH
REVERED: Chefs Collaborative