The concept of farm-to-table dining is not a new one, especially for those of us in the culinary profession. Chefs and restaurateurs have always enjoyed offering guests dishes prepared with the finest, freshest, and most wholesome ingredients. And after all, who wouldn’t want to help preserve the environment. Which leave only one major question, has consumer demand for Organic, Sustainable, and Slow Food reached the tipping point of becoming the “Next Big Thing” in dining.
Back when I was studying culinary arts, I had a rare opportunity to spend a day in the kitchen with legendary chef Edna Lewis. Although I loved the culinary wisdom that Mrs. Lewis generously shared; I loved her stories even more. She told me about how she learned to cook as a little girl growing up in Freetown Virginia. She explained how her family would prepare meals with vegetables fresh from the field and livestock that was freshly butchered. As a young chef her stories left an enduring impression.
Flash forward more than a decade to 2005 and I find myself living minutes south of San Francisco; overseeing restaurant operations for a food service company with units through the Silicon Valley. In the Bay Area, at this time, Farm-to-table, Organic, Slow Food, and Sustainable Food are all the rage. In fact, the Whole Foods store near my home is constantly so crowded one can expect to wait just for parking. In addition, mainstream supermarkets like Safeway have their own “Organic” line of products. From this vantage point, America’s relationship with food seems to have traveled full-circle.
Now, just four years later the farm-to-table moment continues to grow. The White House has its own symbolic kitchen garden, farm-to-table restaurants in Boston are reporting healthy sales in the midst of a bad recession, and chefs all over the country are extolling the virtues of the farm-to-table movement. So, it would seem that now is the time to jump in with both feet. This may be the case, but before you do, consider and prepare for the following:
o Locally and organically grown products are generally more expensive, which means your target market must be willing to pay a premium.o Depending on your location seasonal availability of some products can prove to be a challenge.
o If you choice to fully embrace localism 100%, you may put some of the World finest signature products off limits. (Main Lobster, Greek Olives, New Zealand Lamb, etc.)
o As a chef you must be prepared to change your menu frequently, as small local supplier encounter unexpected shortages.
o Depending on the size of your operation(s) and the long-term growth of local demand producers in some parts of the country may have difficulty scaling upward.
These are just a few of the things to take in to account if you intend to become part of the farm-to-table dining movement, which is possible the next big thing.