Christopher Jackson believes in it so much, he has built his restaurant — Ted & Honey in Brooklyn, N.Y. — on the concept.
Almost 90% of his menu consists of local produce, meats and dairy products in season, he said.
“It requires a lot of work, but it’s worth it,” Jackson said. “I meet with farmers, talk about what’s available, look at what they have. My buyer goes out and gives me information from four or five farms on what’s available and what to look for next week.
“Basis (Foods, a New York-based distributor of food produced in the area) e-mails what’s available now and what to expect next week and what to look for. You’re constantly staying a week ahead on these items.”
Local items are promoted heavily in the restaurant, Jackson said.
“We have a lot of signage — as much we can get out there,” he said.
Face-to-face visits with growers provide Jackson with information about their products that is more than peripheral, and he can convey that to his customers, he said.
“I also always visit the farms and have that relationship, so I know about them and can relay more information other than it comes from Long Island,” he said.
The emphasis on locally grown items requires some flexibility, Jackson said.
“The staff and I write the specials of the day on chalkboard menus, and sometimes the specials are dictated by what’s available in the area,” he said.
Occasionally, a surprise bonus comes along, Jackson said.
“A farmer will offer a bushel or two of these great leeks or sweet corn, and this becomes a special,” he said. “We try to keep our base menu loaded with ingredients we know we can get year-round and then try to gear those specials around seasonality.”
Andrew Ungs, executive chef at Ferrari’s Ristorante, an upscale Italian restaurant in Cedar Falls, Iowa, said he procures locally grown tomatoes whenever possible.
“I’d like to use more,” he said. “I know it’s a huge trend right now, and we’re always looking at the way we can use more locally grown. I know some farmers are going that way, working with local restaurants. A couple of them are growing hothouse tomatoes, which come into the market a little earlier, and that helps our usage.”
Gwen Gulliksen, sales and marketing director for Los Angeles-based Harvest Sensations, a specialty arm of foodservice distributor Pro*Act, said she is a strong believer in locally grown produce.
“As a French-trained chef, this is the only type of produce I ever used, and that was 10 years ago and before,” Gulliksen said.
“Ten years ago I left the kitchen for the produce industry to help this trend become more popular. As I traveled around the country, I realized how many chefs had never taken the opportunity to use locally grown produce and small-farm sustainable produce and wanted to help them discover the difference.”
The recession really fueled interest in finding local produce for menus, Gulliksen said.
“It helped people start looking locally to eliminate huge freight costs associated with shipping,” she said. “This was an interesting turn of events and in many ways I think jump-started the trend to where it is today.”
A nod to local is not new for chefs, though, Gulliksen added.
“Good, ethically minded chefs have always used locally grown produce,” she said. “Now that it’s trendy, more chefs are starting to try it and finding out that the flavor is the winning factor, along with the connection to the community.”