July 16, 2014

The challenges facing ranch-to-table restaurants

Sourcing beef locally presents a challenge to restaurateurs.More chefs and graduates of culinary arts programs have entered the farm-to-table scene. This movement has restaurants purchasing local and sustainable ingredients to serve great meals. Ranch-to-table restaurants have also become popular amongst diners who want an eco-friendly and gourmet meat option. However, buying animals straight from the farm next door presents numerous challenges for restaurateurs. According to NPR, meeting demand is the greatest obstacle ranch-to-table restaurants face.

Buying the animal
In the ranch-to-table system, many chefs purchase a whole animal from the farm with which they work. That means that the restaurant will have a freezer or refrigerator full of lamb, beef, chicken, etc. Buying a whole chicken doesn’t present many issues – people are used to eating an entire bird with their families. But when it comes to cattle, chefs have a much greater challenge. Most restaurants that purchase local and organic are devoted to preventing waste, so they use as much of the animal as they can. Chefs create rotating menus to match the meat they have in stock.

However, once prime cuts of meat (which usually sell out first) are gone, diners have a limited meal choice. While some people don’t mind picking from a menu of what’s left, others do. Those who don’t mind the limited choices typically are OK with eating the not-so-prime cuts because they know they’re getting a sustainable meal.

Meeting customers’ demand
Some restaurants have decided to supply their fridges with a combination of local and outsourced meat in order to meet customer demand. They may continue to purchase whole animals from nearby farms when they know they can sell them. However, these restaurants might then order specific cuts from organic farms farther away. While this does ensure the restaurant has the meat it needs, ordering from a distant source requires shipping. Delivery trucks have to drive from one place to another, using gas. Such a process seems contradictory to what many ranch-to-table restaurants stand for. With customers clamoring for a steady source of meat and a motto of being sustainable, many restaurateurs are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

“People want things in absolute terms. They want it to be 100 percent this or 100 percent that, and it’s always way more complicated,” Trevett Hooper, executive chef at Legume, told the source.

The reality is that most restaurants don’t source 100 percent of their ingredients locally. While the compromise can be frustrating for some, restaurateurs recognize it as a part of the job they must accept until they can find a better way.