9 Tips for Incorporating Local, Sustainable Foods Into Your Menu

“Local” and “Sustainable” have been buzz words of the restaurant industry for the last few years and this trend is here to stay. Buying locally and sustainably is not just good for the environment and the local economy: it can increase the quality of your food, enhance the flavor of your dishes, attract loyal customers, and enhance your brand.

Sadly, local and sustainably raised foods is often more expensive than conventionally grown foods. And when you buy from local farmers, it usually means more vendors to deal with. Incorporating sustainable purveying into your daily operations can be an overwhelming and daunting task.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Here are 9 tips for incorporating more local foods in your restaurant:

  1. Purchase through an aggregator.
    If your hesitance to purchase from farmers is aggravation of dealing with more purveyors, there are new logistics companies that are streamlining the system; including FoodEx and Farm Fresh Rhode Island. Both deliver farm-fresh produce at least weekly, and reduce the hassle and paperwork of ordering from multiple vendors.
  2. Purchase Seasonally
    This is stating the obvious, but it’s worth reminding: Food tastes best in season, has the best nutrition and is the most cost effective. And when you buy seasonally, it also makes sense to….
  3. Buy in Bulk
    And then preserve. You will have fresh tasting and local flavors all year-round. You can jar sauces, pickles and tomatoes. Herbs freeze well, as do corn and leafy greens.
  4. Compost
    Compost pick-up is often less expensive than rubbish pick-up. Better still, by composting you are creating soil to put back into the eco-system instead of the land-fill. And as a chef or restaurant manager, you will become more aware of what is being wasted.
  5. Get to know your farmer
    They can help you figure out what’s most economical and best tasting. They can also offer tips on how to cook up the lesser familiar items like water spinach or coletta viola turnips. Talking with your farmer will also help you plan your shopping in future weeks… they might have insight as to whether tomatoes will be coming in or berries… This will help in planning your menus and other orders..
  6. Think beyond produce
    Too often, when we think of local, we think of fruits and vegetables. But there are dozens of other food products that are locally grown and produced. Dairy – in the form of butter, milk and cheese – is available year round. Flour and other grains are grown in New England. And of course, there’s plenty of meat and seafood available.
  7. Ask for seconds
    Locally grown produce, from small production farmers, tends to have more lumps, bumps and bruises. It still tastes great, even if it doesn’t look perfect. Farmers will often discount these “seconds.” With a little extra trimming, you can still have perfect looking roasted sweet potatoes or wilted kale. In the summer, your tomato sauce will still be sweet and luscious.
  8. Utilize cheaper cuts of meat
    Free range meat is more expensive, there’s no way around that. But you can stretch your food dollars by buying the less expensive cuts. They tend to have more flavor, but also require special attention when cooking. If you’re unsure, ask your farmer the best way to cook each cut.
  9. Modify your menu mix
    Given the added cost of local foods, chefs need to be more careful in watching food cost. When planning your menu items with local ingredients, pair them with less expensive components to keep the overall cost of the dish down.

For more help working with local vendors or planning your menu, call or email.

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