Fresh Produce, Fresh Fieri

By on Friday, August 13th, 2010

Photo © Harris Graber

Despite the rising fork-to-table movement, big suppliers aren’t reading the memo; Guy Fieri strikes a chord with food lovers from all walks of life; heirloom is the real celebrity produce…

Messing with our minds: When Local is not Local

“We buy only local…” “our menu features the finest, freshest ingredients…” “you won’t find anything out of season in our kitchen…” These are the statements we expect all the time from chefs and restaurants, and usually with good reason. As more food lovers recognize the flavor and ecologic benefits of eating foods within one’s own region, they are demanding proof that the tomato in their heirloom salad with fresh mozzarella is from Jersey, not Argentina. But for someone like Helene York, supply chain manager for the Bon Appetit Management Company, sourcing enough local produce for her large-scale foodservice chef clients is an exercise in frustration. “When you’re serving 8,000 meals a day to college students, your produce dock is busy 3 to 4 hours every day,” she writes in The Atlantic. She has spent her summer talking to the large food suppliers who can handle the load of potatoes and Cheerios that will feed hungry students, and unfortunately considers them largely unready and unwilling to take “true local” seriously. Her take: 1. Large-truck suppliers know that “local is good,” but often switch products on their “chef’s list” if the weather is bad. 2. Food is still a commodity to most large suppliers, who balk at the idea of delivering produce from growers with sales under $5 million. 3. “The big business next door,” or Big Ag, might be local in places like California and Minnesota, but in York’s words, is not “true local.” And she’s tired of vendors thinking she’s stupid enough not to know the difference.

Guy Fieri, the dude we love to love

The New York Times calls him the “platinum-haired, heavily tattooed chef-dude;” critics call his media-genic culinary profession “an act;” but The Food Network just calls him golden. So apparently do millions of his fans. Fieri has touched a nerve with regular folks who watch his popular show “Diners, Dives and Drive-Ins” and eat tasty food at his five restaurants. Fieri is one of those chefs who will keep American cuisine from becoming too precious, but he walks a fine line between two worlds–the James Beard Foundation winners and the popular culture idols who continually expand and brand themselves until authenticity disappears. Toque is watching his fame walk with interest–a local (Santa Rosa, Calif.) boy makes good along with Levi Leipheimer and Luther Burbank.

Heirloom Fever

And speaking of Santa Rosa, yesterday we did a double-take on a sign that advertised an “Heirloom Tomato Festival.” It’s Kendall-Jackson’s sponsored event and according to the site features 170 varieties of heirlooms from Abraham Lincoln to Zogola. It’s their 14th annual and includes wine pairings, chef competitions and raises money for the Sonoma County School Garden Network. Obscure and threatened varieties of plants are the uncontested rock stars at farmer’s markets and restaurants as we all know. The produce just tastes better, no doubt about it. In a recent post on Civil Eats, the fact that most of California’s fruit production is of hearty, hybridized variety is something more and more growers are trying to reverse. A conversation in San Francisco on August 31 discusses the true meaning of the “heirloom” label and what (and where) chefs, home cooks and heirloom gardeners should look for in searching for the real McCoy.

Written by Erika Kotite

Erika Kotite is an editor, writer and owner of Toque.

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