Speaking to BigHospitality at the launch of his new restaurant which serves only beef or chicken, Mark Hix told BigHospitality he believed the desire to understand poultry provenance was likely to be the next big development or trend in restaurant sustainability.
"If you say to someone 'what breed is that chicken you have got on the menu' I think half of chefs or restaurateurs wouldn't know - probably more than half; 90 per cent," Hix claimed. "They might know it is barn-raised or free range or nothing at all."
"Chicken is one of the most popular foods we serve. They all know what breed of beef it is, or crossbreed, or breed of pork but ask them what breed the most popular dish on their menu is and they won't know," he added.
Hix's latest restaurant venture, Tramshed in Rivington Street, Shoreditch, serves so-called Mighty Marbled beef steak from Hannan Meats and a 'barn-range' chicken crossbreed produced exclusively for Hix by Woolley Park Farm.
Low nutritional quality
Hibiscus founder Claude Bosi told BigHospitality he agreed with Hix and said the onus was on chefs to make the effort to find out what breed they were cooking and serving. "You will know the name of the farm, you will know where it comes from, but there are so many different breeds. You have to ring your supplier and say 'what breed are we having today?'."
Mark Linehan, managing director of the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA), pointed out that chicken had been high on the sustainability agenda with the public for a number of years thanks to high-profile campaigns from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. However Linehan agreed that the trend of chefs discovering new breeds of chicken was likely to continue and grow.
"There appears to be a greater disconnect and distance between chefs and the original source of chicken, with suppliers often not labelling birds. Slower growing breeds are almost always going to be free range – so perhaps greater awareness of these breeds could help narrow that divide for chefs and diners," he said.
The SRA explained of the 1.4m tonnes of chicken meat that are produced in the UK just 2.8 per cent of broilers are free range with 80 per cent coming from intensive farming systems. According to the organisation intensively farmed poultry raises pollutant levels and is of a lower nutritional value.
Canteen co-founder Cass Titcombe, who last week revealed details of his new chicken restaurant concept Roost, said while provenance of chicken was higher up the agenda of UK chefs, the difficulty remained with the perception of the meat that was sustained by mass operators.
"I think lots of chefs may have historically seen the chicken option on the menu as something that needs to be there to keep customers happy. Unfortunately it has a reputation as a cheap meat aided by supermarket bargain chicken and the many brands of fried chicken shops which will use very cheap and imported battery chickens," he said.
While knowing the breed of chicken on the menu and serving just free range are two different issues, Titcombe's advice to chefs was to buy free range, buy British, buy from just one farm where possible and encourage people through menu design to eat chicken less but consume meat of a higher quality.