Blog: Celebrate Local with the SRA
This blog was written for Love British Food by the Sustainable Restaurant Association.
As May melts away into June, asparagus season gives way to a plethora of peas and shortly beans. Early summer, the time of year when taste buds are well and truly revitalised by the fabulous flavours that have been consigned to cold storage for too long.
Blessed with a temperate climate, passionate producers and a dining public keen as mustard to know the narrative behind the food on their plate, it’s also when many chefs really come alive.
That’s why, throughout June, we’re calling for a celebration of local produce in every foodservice outlet across the UK. No matter whether it’s a fine dining restaurant or humble local pub, now’s the time to shine the brightest light possible on the men and women who work tirelessly to grow, rear and create the fresh produce that fills plates the length and breadth of Britain.
We fervently believe that celebrating local is one of the key ingredients of a good restaurant – one that serves food that matters – food that does good as well as tastes good.
The benefits of sourcing and serving local go way beyond the clichéd and frankly blunt measure of food miles. Food lovers have grown to understand that there are so many more advantages to choosing liberally from the larder on your doorstep than simply how many miles a particular item has travelled.
Armed with a few basic skills there’s no reason why a chef, whatever their setting, can’t both tap into a network of local producers and celebrate them and their wares. Darren Procter, Executive Chef of Sheffield Hallam University, goes a step further. He reckons it’s something of a duty, but that this shouldn’t be seen as a burden, more a blessing. He says: “When you think that the restaurant and hospitality industry accounts for half of the country's spending on food then we have a huge responsibility. It also means we can make a massive impact by shaping food culture.”
At the truly yeocally-minded Yeo Valley Canteen, fortunately now open to the public for lunch Monday-Friday, nothing on the menu is priced at more than £15 despite serving the best organic produce. “When you’ve got fantastic produce you really can keep it simple and let it sing and it doesn’t break the bank,” says Executive Chef Paul Collins. He adds: “There’s no doubt in my mind that the most important reason for us to focus our sourcing locally is the flavour and standard of the produce.
But what if there’s some gorgeous new ingredient you can’t find – most chefs’ worst nightmare? It’s all about a state of mind and a willingness to get creative, according to Enda McEvoy, Head Chef at Loam in Galway.
“I’ve set these parameters myself. If I can’t find the ingredient locally to suit my standards then it’s up to me to come up with alternatives. It means that our menu is really fluid and we have to be creative and think long term, particularly in the winter months. I’m passionate about preserving things. That way we can continue to use locally grown things all year round.”
Enda’s equally passionate about chefs’ power to promote and help your suppliers expand, using the example of the small family-run farm that provides him with his pork, lamb and beef. “I’ve been working with them for over ten years and in that time their meat has got better and better and they’ve grown as a business. We hang out together and they’ve helped me as much as I’ve helped them. That’s what it’s all about.”
That’s quite a list of benefits to be gained from sourcing locally and shouting about it: it can be cheaper, taste better, provide a framework for chefs, help educate customers and bolster local businesses.
For one final upside, just think of the perks of a partnership with a producer with whom you have a personal relationship. Darren Procter from Sheffield Hallam says: “Just recently we’ve been getting loads of asparagus that’s bent. It’s much cheaper because most people want it straight, but once you chop it and put it into a frittata or risotto no one knows the difference and it still tastes great. That’s one of the great things about working with local producers.” And Shaun Kent Head Chef at The White Lodge in Attleborough loves the fact he can pick up the phone to his veg supplier and relieve him of his Class 2s and turn them into a delicious soup.
For any chef who loves British food, grasp the opportunity to showcase at least one local producer this month by making a special dish, highlighting it on the menu, posting photos on social media and generally giving these real food heroes the credit they deserve. As Enda McEvoy, of Loam says, they are as important to him as the bricks in his restaurant’s walls.
Go to www.foodmadegood.org/local to support the campaign, be inspired by some of the local champions in this blog and join the conversation @FoodMadeGood #WeServeLocal.