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Why are local produce so hard to get into food establishment?

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
Just a few questions for professional chefs when creating their menu items. 
 
-How do you decide your menu and what is your biggest struggle when looking for ingredients? 
-If you had an opportunity to know way in advance what produce are available to you during your busiest months would you order specifically from a certain farm?  
-What do you look for when choosing to put a dish together? 
- Why don't more Asian vegetables make an appearance on dishes?
-How can I make it easier for wholesalers to help accommodate their customers' needs?
-How difficult is it to change menu items?  There are standard menu items and then there are specials.  Do you transition slowly or do you change everything at once?
 -What is the relationship like between a chef and the wholesaler?  How do they relay information to you?  Do you usually seek them for options or does the chef usually seek it?

 

 

What are some issues when trying to incorporate produce that are listed below?

 

-Sweet corn

-Choy Sum

-Kai Lan

-Kale

-Potato shoot

-Daikon

-Chive

-Eggplant

-Melons

-Sweet onions

-Cabbage/Won Bok


Edited by Flourdust - 1/7/15 at 1:01pm
post #2 of 9

I think you need to skip the wholesaler and try to sell directly to restaurants.  You should be able to find some that care about local seasonal produce.

post #3 of 9

A couple of ideas. Everything you sell should leave the farm in a package with your label on it so that even if it gets used to fulfill a larger order, the end user sees where it came from. 

What kind of agreement do you have with the wholesalers? you say you aren't able to sell directly to retailers. What are the limitations of your contract?  If you are not under contract, then you aren't really limited by the wholesalers. 

Is there a farmers market with in 50 miles of your island? How big an island? 

Go to a sign company and purchase a magnetic sign for your vehicles. Load up some produce and go see the restaurants in person. Show them what you have. Do you expect the chefs to buy directly from the farm or will you be delivering? 

Get out and market yourself the old fashioned way. 

All the questions you have posted should be answered in person by the chefs and owners you are introducing yourself to. 

post #4 of 9
Thread Starter 

Sorry.  I should have clarified.  I don't need help with marketing or trying to get away from our wholesaler.  I guess I just wanted more input on what chefs are looking for when they create their menus and how difficult it is for them to incorporate new produce.  Also what their relationships is like with their wholesalers and how we can help both side be more efficient.  I'm just doing some background research to incorporate into my presentation.  Thank you for all your inputs.

post #5 of 9

My two cents...

 

When I was the Exec Chef at a country club, I was constantly busy with the day to day ops (scheduling/inventory/ordering/planning menus, etc.), and I constantly had purveyors coming to the door to try and sell their produce/supplies. The life of a chef is hectic and the weekdays can be overloaded with the planning of new menus, events, executing dinner service, admin, and such. I disliked most the purveyors except one and the reason is that the others were only motivated by "getting my money". The one guy I liked, I bought everything from. He was a prior cook who knew the line and had suggestions for selling some of his featured products.

 

Creativity and flawless presentations may be "the perfect" end goal to a chef, but more often than not, this ideology becomes compromised with full dining rooms of impatient clients, under staffed kitchens, and cooks who burn-out with blah specials.  

 

Perhaps you could take a creative perspective to your clients with how to utilize some of your specialty items like the Choy Sum and the Daikon. Grab a copy of "The Flavor Bible", test a few flavor combos, and you could throw  out some suggestions to the chefs you visit. As a chef, when I build a special from scratch, I focus on: do the flavors pair well? do the colors pop on the plate or is this going to be a plate of browns and greens (blah)? Are  there complimentary textures? Overall, is there the "wow" factor?

 

Here's an example, I'll use daikon:
I know its texture is similar to turnips so it'll absorb flavors (stocks, broths, sauces)
I know it pairs well with beets and proteins like duck, beef, salmon, tuna

 

So lets design a plate:
We could use a brush to paint the plate with a sauce made with roasted/pureed/reduced red beets, white wine, and a touch of balsamic vin
Place a group of chopped sauteed daikon on the thickest part of your sauce puddle (not covering more than half the sauce)
Shingle a hard-seared white/black sesame seed crusted tuna filet half on the daikon and ending half on the sauce (for height)
Garnish could be a chiffonade of mint and orange zest (complimentary flavors and colors)
Textures range would be from the hard sear and seeds on the tuna, to the crispness of the daikon, and finishing with the smooth rich tongue coating sauce


As a chef, it's easy to get complacent and toss out the same specials more often than we should. By having some creative ideas to throw out to your prospective clients/kitchens, you'd have the ability to inspire and not just sell. You accomplish that and you become more than just "another purveyor", and become one of the chef's go-to consultants.

 

Another idea would be to reach out to your personal/private/catering Chefs, and perhaps you find one or two willing to do some experimental cooking with your products (most restaurant style chefs may not have as much free time).  As a team (you and the P/P/C Chefs) you both create a few plates with your goods, and could hire a food photographer to come in and produce some professional looking pictures of the plates that benefit both of your businesses.  If you get that far, consider a digital and a print newsletter (build your email list of clients).  Feature your seasonal produce for that month and a few pictures and flavor combos that get the chef's excited to create.

 

We didn't become chefs because we just wanted the paycheck.  It's a passion, a desire to please, and a drive to wow the dining room.  If you want to get your products on the main menu, you have to be a step above the regular purveyors, make sure your produce is in great shape (you send me crap twice in a row, I'm looking for a new purveyor), and don't ever try to sell to me in the middle of lunch or dinner service.  Those business cards get trashed if you don't value my time.  Not trying to be rude, but that seems to be the common sense 80% of the purveyors lacked (in my experience).  Keep a positive attitude and you'll do well.  Good luck!

post #6 of 9
Thread Starter 

 Thank you so much for that, I really appreciate that detailed reply.  That was the information I was looking for.  The end goal is to not just get our produce into these establishments but to also help chefs diversify their menus.  We would be catering to the chefs and growing what they want us to grow rather than us selling them produce that we already grow.  

post #7 of 9
Quote:
Originally Posted by jcmochef View Post
 

My two cents...

 

When I was the Exec Chef at a country club, I was constantly busy with the day to day ops (scheduling/inventory/ordering/planning menus, etc.), and I constantly had purveyors coming to the door to try and sell their produce/supplies. The life of a chef is hectic and the weekdays can be overloaded with the planning of new menus, events, executing dinner service, admin, and such. I disliked most the purveyors except one and the reason is that the others were only motivated by "getting my money". The one guy I liked, I bought everything from. He was a prior cook who knew the line and had suggestions for selling some of his featured products.

 

Creativity and flawless presentations may be "the perfect" end goal to a chef, but more often than not, this ideology becomes compromised with full dining rooms of impatient clients, under staffed kitchens, and cooks who burn-out with blah specials.  

 

Perhaps you could take a creative perspective to your clients with how to utilize some of your specialty items like the Choy Sum and the Daikon. Grab a copy of "The Flavor Bible", test a few flavor combos, and you could throw  out some suggestions to the chefs you visit. As a chef, when I build a special from scratch, I focus on: do the flavors pair well? do the colors pop on the plate or is this going to be a plate of browns and greens (blah)? Are  there complimentary textures? Overall, is there the "wow" factor?

 

Here's an example, I'll use daikon:
I know its texture is similar to turnips so it'll absorb flavors (stocks, broths, sauces)
I know it pairs well with beets and proteins like duck, beef, salmon, tuna

 

So lets design a plate:
We could use a brush to paint the plate with a sauce made with roasted/pureed/reduced red beets, white wine, and a touch of balsamic vin
Place a group of chopped sauteed daikon on the thickest part of your sauce puddle (not covering more than half the sauce)
Shingle a hard-seared white/black sesame seed crusted tuna filet half on the daikon and ending half on the sauce (for height)
Garnish could be a chiffonade of mint and orange zest (complimentary flavors and colors)
Textures range would be from the hard sear and seeds on the tuna, to the crispness of the daikon, and finishing with the smooth rich tongue coating sauce


As a chef, it's easy to get complacent and toss out the same specials more often than we should. By having some creative ideas to throw out to your prospective clients/kitchens, you'd have the ability to inspire and not just sell. You accomplish that and you become more than just "another purveyor", and become one of the chef's go-to consultants.

 

Another idea would be to reach out to your personal/private/catering Chefs, and perhaps you find one or two willing to do some experimental cooking with your products (most restaurant style chefs may not have as much free time).  As a team (you and the P/P/C Chefs) you both create a few plates with your goods, and could hire a food photographer to come in and produce some professional looking pictures of the plates that benefit both of your businesses.  If you get that far, consider a digital and a print newsletter (build your email list of clients).  Feature your seasonal produce for that month and a few pictures and flavor combos that get the chef's excited to create.

 

We didn't become chefs because we just wanted the paycheck.  It's a passion, a desire to please, and a drive to wow the dining room.  If you want to get your products on the main menu, you have to be a step above the regular purveyors, make sure your produce is in great shape (you send me crap twice in a row, I'm looking for a new purveyor), and don't ever try to sell to me in the middle of lunch or dinner service.  Those business cards get trashed if you don't value my time.  Not trying to be rude, but that seems to be the common sense 80% of the purveyors lacked (in my experience).  Keep a positive attitude and you'll do well.  Good luck!

        Thanks for the great explanation of a chefs day early on in your letter, I thought it was just me. So many great intentions, yet due to all the forces that come into play, they get put on the back burner.

post #8 of 9

I did not quote properly or something, only the last sentence of that good letter is mine, sorry!

post #9 of 9

Has anyone considered approaching the farmer to ask if they'd grow for you?

 

I had the chance to work with locally produced vegetables and fresh berries.

I contacted the farmers in the area and asked them what they grew.

 

A YEAR before, I planned a progressive menu utilizing what the farmer was going to grow.

 

Romaine lettuce for salads

Green beans for veggie

squash, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, micro-greens like Mache' and baby endive, beet greens etc.......

Of course, nature has a way of screwing things up, so the menu gets tweaked mid season to compensate 

I don't know what zone the OP is in but many of the examples cited would grow just about anywhere.

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