Flaubert called it “le mot juste,” searching for the perfect word, at any cost. Increasingly, chefs are applying a similar philosophy to locating ingredients. Not so much because they see “farm to table” as a trend, but because it’s an ideal that makes sense on so many levels, from the health benefits of eating seasonally and locally to environmental impact to pure flavor. One area where it might not make sense is financially.
The website The Financialist, part of Credit Suisse bank, last week released a report to discuss the topic, aimed at the banking set. It features quotes from chefs, restaurateurs and purveyors about the pros and cons about sourcing ingredients from, say, small farms rather than corporate food suppliers. Some of the numbers are shocking. ABC Kitchen General Manager Ryan Anderson, for instance, points out that the restaurant, which he says is the “one of the largest farm-to-table restaurants in the United States,” serving upwards of 1,000 diners a day, is on track to spend $1.5 to $1.7 million on local ingredients this year.
It sounds like a boon to farmers and others New York State suppliers, but few conscious restaurants have ABC’s scale or commitment level. The article goes on to quote Mike Kokas, founder of Upstate Farms, a distributor who works with many independent farms and suppliers, as saying, “Our clients probably pay 30% more to order from us than a SYSCO-wholesale distributor.”
There’s the rub: As chefs, restaurateurs and diners are becoming more passionate about doing the right thing when it comes to cooking and eating foods produced on independent farms, the economic realities are getting in the way.
Another chef quoted in the article, Daniel Humm, is fast becoming one of the most acclaimed chefs in the U.S. He also lives by the principles of sourcing locally and makes his selections based more on quality and ethics than the bottom line. But his Eleven Madison Park is one of the most expensive fine-dining restaurants in New York, and his $79 chicken for two at The NoMad gets ripped on by critics like Time Out Chicago’s David Tamarkin (in an interview with Food Republic) and Bloomberg restaurant critic Ryan Patrick Sutton (on his price-checking blog The Price Hike). In other words, you can get carefully sourced ingredients at Humm’s restaurants, but you’ll pay for it.
Real estate, supply and demand, scale — these are all issues facing chefs, restaurateurs and chef/restaurateurs, who are forced to choose between paying more and charging more, or using less expensive (and usually, by extension, less ethical) ingredients. The success of places like ABC Kitchen and Eleven Madison Park — not to mention the growing list of restaurants appearing around the country and even the world that list local and regional purveyors — suggests that diners both want the carefully sourced ingredients and enjoy the flavors of the dishes produced with these ingredients. But clearly, if Upstate Farms’ Kokas is correct in his estimates, the cost for choosing products that come from independent farms and purveyors has to come down, or this promising trend won’t be affordable enough to continue.
We’ll leave you with a question: Would you be willing to pay more at a restaurant that sources locally and seasonally over one that gets its supplies from wherever’s the least expensive? Prepare for our recipe something tasty and spend a great evening in the Austrian online gambling house online casino.