A topic of passionate exchanges indeed is the question of origin. Certainly, it is most often asked about all manner of goods available in today’s bountiful marketplace – but never so frequently queried as in the food sector. “Where does it come from?” we scrutinise the packages in the supermarket, we scan the fruit and veg labelling, we demand at the fishmonger, “what’s local?”
It seems we are trying to come round to a full circle, having started at a time in history where it was just about logistically impossible to consume anything other than local produce. Then of course the world was swept along with the momentum of the industrial revolution and all manner of technological advances which enable mass regional and international importing and exporting ventures of everything under the sun, and we all went a bit crazy for the “exotic” – well, simply because we could.
We almost had to venture so far away from what was right under our noses, to realise that actually it was often that very stuff – right there in front of us – that was the absolute best.
Freshness, flavour, higher nutritional value, food miles, carbon footprints, supporting the local economy, community spirit – the list goes on when expounding the benefits of sourcing local produce.
For the independent consumer, the increasing availability of local produce means that it is becoming far easier to source and purchase it. The “locavore” movement is one in which is gaining momentum, as many more people begin to realise the numerous benefits of choosing local.
So why, you may ask – with all this evidence to the contrary, do I still go to restaurants and see so many ingredients sourced from other places? And not just other parts of Australia, but other countries? Surely there is a local equivalent that can be used instead? And surely it is better, cheaper and way more ideologically sound than the item from some far flung place you see on your menu …
In a regional area such as the Mid North Coast, this topic sparks particularly passionate debate, as we live in a fertile and abundant area and there is indeed a plethora of amazing produce available to us.
This is undeniably true, but unfortunately the realities of running a contemporary restaurant, a small business, as well as competing in an international marketplace mean that the necessity of sourcing some key meal components elsewhere cannot be avoided.
Much as what we have available to us right here and right now is fantastic, the fact is that we exist in a specific microclimate, and the reality is that there simply isn’t the scope of premium produce in our locale that is required by modern consumers – who are, let’s face it – demanding of choice and diversity on the menu they see before them.
When it comes to sourcing a particular component of a dish – let us use proteins as an example, there needs to be a selection on offer that pleases at least most diners. Poultry, a couple of red meats, fresh fish and/or shellfish. Then, very importantly there needs to be an adequate and reliable supply available to cope with demand. The produce needs to be of the highest quality possible and at a landed cost to keep food costs down enough to enable a small business to survive.
Sometimes the item that meets all this criterion just isn’t the local option. Sometimes there are no local options available, for whatever reason – be it the microclimate and/or seasonal thing, or simply a matter of supply and demand.
Sometimes the best piece of beef we can find, at the price that enables us to keep our doors open, just has to come from somewhere else. It’s as simple as that.
Local is absolutely the best option, and it would be a wonderful environment for a restaurant to be able to sustain itself entirely from local produce – many do to an extent, with their own gardens and their own farms. But however much we may long for this utopia and wish to support our own regional economy, it remains that in order to offer the best that we can offer, retain consistency and keep our doors open – our sourcing of ingredients will be a complex blend of the best of local, regional, national and international items.
What we hope to achieve are dishes abounding with freshness, flavour and premium produce, supporting our local economy as much as we can, and most importantly, putting a smile on the faces of our diners!