November 8, 2017

How to buy local for less

Chefs love cooking with local ingredients for their fresh taste, but also for a variety of other reasons. Buying from your neighbors is a chance to support the community, and using area produce means the items retain more of the nutritional content that can be lost if they are picked prematurely to be shipped.  Purchasing ingredients from nearby is also more environmentally friendly since it reduces the carbon footprint involved in transporting ingredients.

While Austin culinary arts students may want to take advantage of all the great food in the area around them, it’s also important to consider the costs of ingredients. Staying within budget is a concern for any cooking professional, and prioritizing the highest quality can quickly get expensive. Fortunately, there are ways to use fantastic local meat, produce and dairy without breaking the bank.

Stick to seasonal dishes

“Chefs should always be ready to shift their menus with the seasons.”

To control costs and make the best of local produce, chefs should always be ready to shift their menus with the seasons. While your strawberry salad might be a hit during the summer, consider swapping it out as the months grow cooler. Educating yourself about what ingredients are readily available in your region during a particular month can inspire great new dishes that keep people coming back for more.

For instance, the fall brings plenty of opportunities to emphasize hearty, comforting tastes. Cooking Light suggested spotlighting apples by roasting pieces of fruit and serving them with pork chops and onions or chicken thighs and garlic. Use winter squash to prepare the ultimate cold-weather soup or to put a new spin on your favorite pasta dish.

Connect with farmers

Partnering directly with farms is a great way for chefs to get the freshest ingredients at a reasonable price and ensure they have everything they’ll need to prepare delicious, seasonal cuisine on hand. The Illinois Farm Bureau noted that this cooperation has been a powerful means for growing the farm-to-table movement. When restaurants form connections with reliable producers, chefs can request specific ingredients, the agricultural community gains a long-term customer and consumers get to enjoy all the tasty results.

In addition to saving on fresh, organic ingredients, chefs and restaurateurs gain insight into how these items are cultivated and prepared. Having direct contact with the butcher who cut the meat you’re cooking and serving can generate creative ideas while granting a restaurant a sense of authenticity. Many customers like knowing just where their food came from and the feeling that they are supporting agriculture in the region.

Consider what ingredients you can obtain from local producers when setting a menu.When setting a menu, consider what ingredients you can obtain from local producers.

Minimize waste

When you’ve invested in top-quality ingredients, you don’t want any of it to go to waste. Taking strict measures to cut down on food that goes unused is a socially responsible move that can save you money in the long run. Some restaurants that specialize in using local produce and meat have set the goal of producing the least possible waste in every aspect of how they operate.

NPR reported that one of the most influential restaurants in the zero-waste movement is Silo in Brighton, England. There, Chef Douglas McMaster focuses on producing everything from flour to veggies on-site and finding applications for items other restaurants would just toss in the trash, like growing mushrooms in old coffee grounds. Plates and stools are made from recycled material, and anything that can’t be reused goes into a composter.

Students working toward a culinary arts certificate online will discover countless ways to put fresh, local ingredients to work in their dishes. With some careful planning, you can minimize waste and achieve the best flavors while maintaining a budget.