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Setting the Table for Local Food

Healthy menus are more than a trend; restaurant patrons are now more conscious than ever of the benefits of choosing to eat locally-sourced products. That’s our wheelhouse at West Central Food Service. With more than four decades in the food service industry, we know what chefs need for dynamic farm-to-table menus.

The Menus of Change initiative, spearheaded by the Culinary Institute of America and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, recently noted that the food service industry is recognizing that it has a role to play in reducing the carbon footprint of the meals they prepare. Companies that actively manage their supply chains and respond to environmental concerns are valued more highly with investors, too.

Here are a few tips to help your establishment thrive, with menus that are sustainable, authentic and delectable.

Farm-to-Table Cuisine

Food quality improves when the time between harvest and food preparation is minimized, increasing the flavor and nutritional content of the products. Farm-to-table cuisine is characterized by fresh, local and seasonal ingredients, often sourced from only a few miles away.

Simplicity is another hallmark of farm-to-table menus, with the natural flavors of fresh food highlighted, rather than saturating it in sauces. Produce may only need to be lightly steamed or roasted to enhance the taste, while some foods shine when served raw, accompanied with seasoning.

About Those Farms

According to Menus of Change, farms that supply local and regional markets have unique characteristics. They are usually smaller than the average farm in the United States, with most of them located in the Northeast and the West and supplying nearby urban centers. Farms that sell to local retailers and restaurants through intermediaries have higher sales than those that sell directly to consumers. More than half of those food sales are for fresh produce.

Farms that supply restaurants need to take additional steps to meet food safety practices in farm production and handling along the supply chain, such as produce safety rules set out by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The extra investment in safety measures to supply the culinary market can be rewarded with economic benefits to the farms and local communities.

Taste Advantage

The consumer’s palate is the winner when food is sourced locally and regionally. Fresh food is tasty food, with quality that can’t be retained when it’s shipped over long distances.

Reducing the shipping equation also allows farms to invest in choices that focus on producing nutrient-rich and flavorful foods. For example, some farms cultivate heritage and heirloom varieties of produce and livestock — varieties often rated as tastier than more recent ones — while others concentrate on different elements of farm stewardship that keep the flavor factor front and center.

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