Man with corn wagon
While some of us are more vigilant about adopting the “locavore” practice, others have a more “do it when you can” mentality.
As it just so happens, it’s getting easier to do.
Ten years ago, consumers had to search for where to buy local produce and meats, but in the last five years, the demand for markets serving the local food movement has grown exponentially. The convenience of having a “one-stop shop” that was once offered only by grocery stores and supermarket giants is now available on your weekly visit to the nearest farmers’ market.
Ever reinventing themselves in order to meet demand, restaurants are taking notice.
Chefs have long held that great food comes from great ingredients, treating it minimally and allowing the natural flavors to sing. Some restaurants, like Fat Casual BBQ in Macedonia, buy locally but don’t go out of their way to advertise the fact — even though, says co-owner Walter Hyde, they typically buy nearly half of their raw ingredients from local farmers and purveyors. He, along with many owners and chefs I spoke with, says that not only is he getting much better products locally because they come in at their flavor peak, he’s also reinvesting back into the local economy.
Michael Bruno, co-owner and pastry chef at Blue Door Bakery and Café in Cuyahoga Falls, says he can source about three-quarters of his ingredients from local purveyors, which in turn, helps support other local businesses that can then use those profits to expand their operation and hire new employees.
On the other hand, using local produce, meats and dairy means limited supply. Many restaurants strive for consistency and having to modify their menu to fit the seasons is a time-consuming, difficult task. Another challenge: Consumers and chefs are at the mercy of what farmers grow.
Some chefs, like Louis Prpich of Chowder House Café and Sugo Modern Italian Restaurant in Cuyahoga Falls, welcome the seasonal variations and have the ability to rotate the menus as supply changes. Last summer, Prpich started his “Barn Appetit!” program to proudly showcase the best of what was in season and local to Northeast Ohio. And regardless of how often the main menus change, nearly every chef offers daily specials to highlight what was found that morning at the markets.
How has this push to offer locally sourced cuisine been received? It’s nearly universally agreed upon that “local” doesn’t mean “less expensive.” In fact, it’s often quite the opposite. But because of the work of activists like Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” consumers are beginning to understand that cheap food ends up costing more in the long run — among other things, rising health care costs associated with poor diet. Also, many people are willing to pay more for local because they appreciate that it tastes better, is better for them, boosts the local economy and keeps their carbon footprint smaller.
As a food enthusiast myself, the true test of whether a concept has merit or is simply another passing fad is the taste test. Knowing that the tomato I’m about to eat was picked that morning on a farm just miles away from me at its peak of flavor and freshness can truly be a much-anticipated experience. As a child, I remember picking red, ripe tomatoes right off the vine from my family’s backyard garden, still warm from the morning sun. Sinking my teeth into the soft flesh, the juice from the vine-ripe tomato filled my mouth with sweet liquor and ran down my chin, dropping onto the ground.
Eating locally and seasonally means that, as an adult, I can repeat this same exercise in gastronomic gratification for about six weeks as the heat of summer draws to a close, when tomatoes are at their best. With the knowledge that a little kosher salt sprinkled on the tomato can take something particularly good and make it sublime, I can’t help but think that this was the way we were meant to eat all along.