“Farm to Fork” is no longer a trend, it’s here to stay. Consumers continue to want to know where their food comes from and restaurants are listening. This Farm to Fork movement is all about restaurants using ingredients from local providers in the dishes they serve, directly from the farm to the kitchen.
Quality, sustainability, food safety, and environmental impact are all great reasons to go local. Another reason is the opportunity to support local farms, ranches, dairies, bakeries, and other businesses. Plus, the more you promote local businesses on your menus, the more likely they are to return the favor.
So how do you incorporate Farm to Fork in your menus? Read on for a few tips.
Determine what Farm to Fork standards you want to maintain. It’s not just about locally sourced ingredients. Farm to Fork is all about dishes made from scratch using fresh, in-season ingredients that aren’t processed or frozen. Also, think about food safety, organic, pesticides, GMOs, additives, humane treatment, free range, and other food quality issues.
Determine What You Want
Do you want to feature a few local ingredients in two or three special dishes or do you want to go completely local using produce, proteins, bread, and beer and spirits from local producers? Or something in between?
Do Your Research
Educate yourself in food production and processing systems. Learn the ins and outs of the main factors, the major challenges, planting and harvesting cycles, environmental influences, and other issues.
Then, research the farms and fishers in your local area. Learn about their standards and processes to ensure sound food safety and eventually a cohesive menu message. For example, determine where a farmer slaughters and processes their livestock. Also, learn about the local quotas that prevent over-fishing.
Develop Relationships with Farmers and Fishers
A good Farm to Fork program involves a lot of communication and relationship building. Visit your local suppliers to learn if their processes are aligned with yours.
The farmers market is a great place to start. Engage in conversations about how vegetables are grown, how cows are slaughtered, the timing of harvests, what the livestock are eating and how they’re treated, and any environmental or regulatory factors affecting production.
Network with local farmers and suppliers and let them know you’re interested. Sometimes they have surplus crops they’d love to unload. A farmer-chef relationship can be mutually beneficial where the chef designs dishes around what the farmer has available and the farmer might plant ingredients the chef prefers to use.
Promoting a Farm to Fork menu means your offerings aren’t set in stone. The dishes you serve are determined by the season, local economy, local weather, and local harvests. Your farmer might not have enough of the item you want, so you’ll have to change the menu. You might see some awesome zucchini at the farmers market that morning and decide to use them for a dinner side dish that evening.
Your chef will need to be flexible and creative to scrap a recipe and create a new one on short notice.
Schedule More Time and Money
Preparing a Farm to Fork menu is no quick and easy task. Remember to be strategic when establishing and developing relationships. Be prepared for the increased cost. Using locally sourced ingredients is going to cost more than ordering from a regional or national distributor. Also, the increased labor involved means higher costs.
Hire the Right Chef and Train Your Staff
This requires total buy in from the chef. He or she should be passionate and knowledgeable about the movement. Farm To Fork chefs are excited to try new things and design new menu items around seasonal ingredients.
Farm to Fork is a group effort. Your servers need to be thoroughly educated about the concept, processes, menus, and local farmers.
Host Farmers and Suppliers
Invite farmers to your restaurant to present their farm, processes, and products. Ask local wineries to do a wine tasting and pairing tutorial for staff and guests. On a hot summer night, invite local breweries to a beer garden with live music. Plan an evening around one local provider or product as a “Meet Your Farmer Night.” Design an entire multi-course dinner around a theme, one farmer or the latest in season shipment.
Don’t forget to promote the farms and suppliers on your website and in your menus. Consider creating booklets with photos and stories about each farmer. Let all your regular guests and new customers know when you get a fresh shipment of seafood, a big box of ripe fruit, or a whole hog.
Another trend that’s here to stay is e-learning. If you don’t have time to sit in a classroom, online training is the perfect solution. Learn2Serve has convenient online food safety courses you need anytime you want them. Enroll now!