Offering eco-friendly or local foods at your restaurant is anything but easy. It requires a lot more knowledge about the food itself and how it’s produced. Second, relationships between growers, purveyors and chefs must be developed. But despite these challenges, the end result is well worth the work.
For any chef or restaurateur thinking about serving more responsibly produced food, here’s what I’ve learned personally: it can help you attract better employees who not only care about your mission, but also have passion about the food. It also can create a great relationship between yourself and your customers who really care about environmentalism and local farming.
So how can you be more sustainable, especially when it comes to food? It comes down to sourcing: knowing where your ingredients come from, how they were grown, raised and produced. I’m fortunate; there is a farmer’s market right outside one of my restaurants so my employees get to engage with the farmers there first hand. That’s helped them build a connection with each other. They employees hear stories about the products and really care about them. Because of that, they’re less likely to burn or waste the items during the prep process. They cook in a respectful, professional way and the service staff gets to see that. They then translate and share that experience with the customers.
These days, a lot more chefs are purchasing locally-sourced foods and ingredients for their restaurants. But what does local really mean? For me, it’s knowing where the food comes from. And, as I’ve said, having human interaction with the farmers is so important. It allows you to build those relationships so you can ask questions about what you’re buying. The more questions you ask, the more knowledge you’ll have.
Sourcing locally also is a great marketing opportunity. It shows your guests you care about the community and environment. They’ll respect you for that. It will especially resonate with the next generation of diners, who are really looking for environmental responsibility.
How should you begin? The best way is visit a farmer’s market and buy products for your own personal use. Connect with the farmers. Plant the seed for yourself. You don’t have to buy everything at once. Start with one thing you can rely on and take steps from there to really grow. Soon you’ll see how much better everything tastes.
Douglas Katz is the owner and executive chef of fire food and drink in Cleveland, Ohio, owner of the Katz Club Diner in Cleveland Heights, and chef-partner of Provenance, Provenance Cafe, and Catering By Provenance at the Cleveland Museum of Art.