Buying ingredients from local suppliers is becoming more common among chefs and restaurateurs as they recognise the financial, logistical and environmental benefits it brings, but for some, sourcing food from within a 60-mile or even a 30-mile radius is not local enough.
A growing band of individuals in the industry are not only creating award-winning dishes in their kitchens, but are also growing, rearing and producing the ingredients that go in them.
BigHospitality caught up with two members of the industry who are going the extra mile to produce ingredients on their doorsteps while running successful restaurants, hotels and pubs.
The hotel restaurant with a cheese-making chef
Daren Bale, head chef at The Elms hotel (pictured, right) in Worcestershire, took over the making of Delicatas - one of the three popular local cheeses on the cheeseboards of the hotel`s Brooke and Pear Terrace restaurants - when his supplier became too ill to continue producing it.
Following tutorials with his old supplier at the nearby St Michael`s Farm, Bale got stuck into making the goats cheese, which uses milk from the goats at the farm and is washed in red wine to help develop the flavour. His first batch of cheeses has already gone on to the cheeseboard to the delight of customers, and as he waits for the second batch to mature he is already looking at more ways to develop its use.
"I`m probably one of the only chefs in England doing this, but I would really encourage other chefs to do it if they can," he enthuses. "It`s a skill and another part of cheffing that others should get into."
Bale (pictured, right)†factors the time he spends making cheese into his rota (it takes him five hours to make a batch of cheeses and they are checked daily by the dairy`s owner) and says all it costs him is the price of 54 litres of raw goats milk.
"I can make 44 cheeses which makes over £1k of stock," he says. "It makes sense to make it financially and the marketing value is invaluable, it gives us such a unique selling point - our marketing guys love it."
As well as keeping the costs of his cheeseboard low and acquiring a new skill, Bale has also found he is respecting the work of artisan suppliers more.
"I do cooking with chef here and I had another cheese-maker come along. He said, `come and make cheese with me` so I did and he had me stirring curds for two and a half hours. I said `fair play to you guys`. It`s real graft. The chefs in my kitchen are now given a hard time when they waste the cheese I make."
Making your own cheese or other product
Benefits to business:
- Can save costs if all you are paying for are the raw materials.
- Gives your business a unique selling point.
- You add another skill to your repertoire.
- You can guarantee the quality.
- You can sell it as retail to customers and make extra cash.
- Time. You`ll need to either make time in your working day or put in extra hours to learn a new skill and make the product.
- You need access to a dairy or another production area if you can`t make the product in-house.
The gastropub with a small-holding
For the past three and a half years Philip Harland and Rafael Boydell have reared livestock and grown fruit and vegetables at their award-winning gastropub The Plough Inn in Chester.
Rare breed pigs, chickens, quails, geese and turkeys are kept on land behind the pub and vegetables are grown in the gardens and polytunnels. There are also established orchards nearby where the pair source apples and pears for their menus with windfall fruit providing treats for the pigs.
Despite being hard work, Harland says producing his own ingredients is hugely satisfying and means that he can guarantee the quality of produce appearing on his customers` plates.
"I spend half an hour every morning with the animals and you can`t get a break from it, because they rely on you to feed them and when the vegetables are in full swing you can have your work cut out," says Harland.
"Knowing that the quality of the stuff we are producing and serving in the restaurant is the best we can get is great though. The pigs are fantastic. Their meat keeps us going for ages. We make our own black pudding and the cheeks for brawn."
To run the business as they do Harland and Boydell still need help, however. By law, animals must be killed and butchered off-site and they still need to call on local suppliers for extra produce, especially during the winter months.
Harland said: "We couldn`t be completely self-sufficient. We`re a 48-cover restaurant so we have to be able to provide enough food for all our customers, but our herbs are completely self-sufficient and in the summer we tend to make most of our salads from vegetables we`ve grown.
"It`s quite intensive and I wouldn`t say it saves money, but the marketing side is very, very important and the quality of what we can produce from what we have raised is incredibly important."
Running a small-holding and a restaurant
Benefits to business:
- More control over the quality of produce being put through the kitchen.
- Easy to prove the provenance and freshness of ingredients.
- Some shelter from sharp fluctuations in the price of meat and vegetables.
- Gives the business a unique selling point
- Time. Rearing livestock and growing fruit and vegetables requires dedication and need daily attention to make it work.
- Space. You`ll need plenty of it to keep animals and grow vegetables on, so it may only suit businesses in rural areas or with access to farm land.
Local food could save businesses and the economy