Sustainable Agriculture: Educating Staff on the Benefits of Farm to Table
Chef Bruce Sherman dreams of a sustainable future. As chef and partner of North Pond in Chicago, he uses his restaurant as a vehicle for educating staff and customers on the importance of local sustainable agriculture. “We believe it’s important to link concern for sustainable cuisine to the pleasures of everyday fine dining,” says Sherman. He is one of many chefs across the country who promotes the relationship between farm and table.
For the past five years, Sherman has been organizing a staff road trip to the farmland of Illinois. Each trip entails visiting a variety of the restaurant’s purveyors so the staff can meet the individual farmers and learn more about their produce. While all the staff is invited, it is ultimately the ones willing to give up their precious “day off” to further their culinary education. “I’ve absolutely seen a difference in the attitudes and understanding of the staff towards the food at the restaurant,” says Sherman. He also encourages his staff to visit the weekly farmer’s market in Chicago and interact with the farmers there.
Sherman also put his belief into action in the dining room with his wine donation program. To the price of each bottle of wine he adds a dollar, which is donated with a matching dollar from restaurant revenue, to organizations like the Chefs Collaborative and Stateline Farm Beginnings. These charitable organizations are dedicated to educating and promoting sustainable, organic cuisine and the farming practices behind it.
On the East Coast, Stage Left Restaurant owners, Mark Pascal and Francis Schott have been developing relationships with local purveyors for over ten years. As successful restaurateurs, consultants and hosts of the Restaurant Guys Radio Show, they focus on the business benefits of the farm to table concept. “If restaurants buy local and sustainable produce, that’s what people with money want to eat,” says Schott. They claim that sustainable agriculture is the number one advantage that small restaurants have over bigger chains that don’t use local purveyors. As consultants, they encourage clients to highlight their local farmers and seasonal ingredients though email campaigns and special food-focused dinners.
Pascal and Schott also organize outings for the staff to a variety of the nearby New Jersey farms. Often a trip will inspire the staff to use a local ingredient in a non-traditional way or create an appreciation for handcrafted artisanal cheeses. Pascal sums it up after a recent trip to a strawberry farm in Monroe, New Jersey; “You want to talk about farm to plate, stand in that field on a 78 degree day, and take one of the strawberries off the vine that is warm from the sun, and eat it. They are spectacular.” While staff outings or team building exercises might be common in the restaurant world, this new theme of sustainable agriculture goes a long way to further educate and inspire in the dining room.