Across the country, there is a growing fervor for local foods. Consumers and chefs alike are discovering the delicious, sustainable ingredients growing right in their own back yards. However, some people still have their doubts about going local, worrying that local foods are not as affordable or easy to prepare as imported or processed ingredients. Not so, says local foods activist and registered dietitian Jasia Steinmetz, author of “Eat Local: Simple Steps to Enjoy Real, Healthy & Affordable Food.”
Shopping at the right time and place can cut costs. Steinmetz said that it’s not hard to shop local and still save money, you just have to do some planning. “Savvy shoppers compare prices between stores on a regular basis using a price book to track purchases. Careful and consistent price comparison often reveals that local food costs the same or less than food that travels, especially if this is purchased at the farmers markets. Start your local food purchasing with the most affordable foods and check with farmers frequently to take advantage of any discounts for larger purchases which can be frozen or canned for later use,” she said. Chefs and restaurant owners can benefit from a relationship with local farmers, which can “result in optimal price breaks and alternate delivery systems that benefit both farmer and chef.”
Restaurants should emphasize local foods’ unique flavors. “Chefs appreciate the quality and variation of local foods, knowing that farmers are able to offer unique varieties of foods, which are not available through conventional purveyors. Heirloom, organic or delicate foods may be available and these provide distinctive flavors for the chef who wants to enhance their menu,” Steinmetz said. Different regions will have different star ingredients. For example, “northern, cold climates have their winter stores of pumpkins, squash, potatoes, onions, garlic and root crops while the southern climates are beginning their citrus harvests. Epicurious has an interactive seasonal ingredient map with the seasonal food lists available by state and month.”
Know how to sell it. Once restaurants add local ingredients to the menu, they should do their best to advertise these exciting additions. “Featuring specials with local foods attracts the eye of the customer while servers may reinforce the local food with a quick description of where the food originated,” Steinmetz said. Servers should be able to describe the unique features of local ingredients, and “having the staff taste the food while the chef describes the unique flavors or textures will reinforce the benefits.” Many diners like to feel that the restaurant has a relationship with the farmer who grew the food, and some eateries may benefit from having “a farmer focus each week that gives customers an introduction to the featured farmer when they enter the restaurant or see the menu. ‘Food with the face’ generates familiarity and confidence that their food will be the best quality, and customers appreciate supporting someone that they can see.”
Does your restaurant use local foods? If so, what tips and tricks do you use to get the best price and get the most out of your purchases?