Nourish What You Love, a dinner planned in cooperation with P.O.W.E.R. and Farms to K and catered by Sodexo on Valentine’s Day 2010 was a success by any measure. It was the result of the dedication and commitment of students, staff and Sodexo Executive Chef Paul Carter. The goal was to bring a dinner to campus that was as locally sourced as possible. The goal percentage of locally sourced ingredients was 75% and we surpassed this mark, ending up with a dinner that was 89% local. Although this process involved a few extra steps and attentive planning, it proved to be a fun and creative process that groups and staff can easily replicate in the future.
The process of procuring local ingredients for this dinner:
We set up a consultation meeting with Chef Paul to explain the vision of the dinner and certain stipulations that were important to us such as:
Farms to K members then took on the responsibility of gathering a list of what was available. This included:
Calling the People’s Food Co-Op (269) 342-5686 to inquire about what they had in stock that was grown and/or produced locally
Going directly to farmers at the Bronson Winter Farmer’s Market (every other Friday in Winter, 10am-2pm, in Bronson’s SkyCourt Café) to gather information.
Using localharvest.org and a list compiled by Farms to K of area farms to make calls regarding availability and prices.
After emailing Chef Paul the availability and prices of ingredients and suggested dishes (Shepard’s pie, a pasta dish, trying to use kale which was in abundance and affordable), he drafted a menu and came up with quantities needed to cook for our target of 50 diners.
Given the quantities that Chef Paul gave us of ingredients we called back suppliers/farmers and placed orders. We obtained ingredients through both pick up, at the Bank St. Market, the Co-Op, and Victorian Bakery and by delivery directly to the college. We paid suppliers up front through cash and check and gathered itemized receipts to be reimbursed at a later date.
A local dinner must be planned well enough in advance so that there is time for communication between the planner of the dinner, the chef and the suppliers. Take note that not every farmer checks his email regularly or is around to answer the phone at all hours–so it may take a couple tries to make contact.
The best way to establish contact is to go directly to the farmer at the Winter Market or Bank Street Market.
You need to be flexible in the menu. Availability in a given week or season can strongly influence and change plans for menu ideas, but it is fun to be creative with new ingredients and to allow Chef Paul to use his imagination to come up with recipe ideas.
It would be helpful to have a plan for the leftovers. Sodexo policy does not allow employees to take any leftover food, so what is not eaten at the dinner will go to waste. We found that several diners asked about getting take-out bags to take extra portions with them.
You may find that there are many vendors for a given ingredient and so it is important to decide if it is more important to get the ingredient that is closest to the college or that is most economical.
Depending on your circumstances Sodexo may take a larger or smaller role in procuring local food for your dinner. The best way to ensure that what goes on your menu is local is to be in direct contact with Chef Paul and the vendors from which you obtain your ingredients.
The most rewarding part of this process is being able to share stories of how the food got from farm to plate. It is great to be able to put a place and identity to your dinner that your guests will also appreciate.
Sources Used for Nourish What You Love Dinner: Bronson Winter Farmer’s Market
Available: Ida Red, Northern Spy, Fuji, Granny Smith and Melrose apples
*All availabilities are for February 2010, check back to each individual farm for changes in availability.
Appendix 1. Field to Plate Produce Guide