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How to get locally sourced foods on the menu

Chefs can please guests' palates by putting more locally sourced foods on the menu. Share this article

For a restaurant to thrive, it must give the people something they want. That something happens to be locally sourced foods. They've made the list of top trends predicted by the National Restaurant Association for several years. What better time of year to start thinking about a foray into locally foraged veggies than fall? Here are some pointers that can help chefs in big and small kitchens across the country put locally sourced foods on the menu. 

Start by defining locally sourced
A good jumping off point for culinary experts is defining "locally sourced." As QSR magazine pointed out, it's easy to mix up locally sourced with organic foods, but the two aren't synonymous. People tend to interchange the terms because they are both considered eco-friendly ways to put food on the table. For a food to carry the label "organic" it must be certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

"It's easy to mix up locally sourced with organic foods, but the two aren't synonymous."

Jamie Moore, director of sourcing and sustainability for Eat'n Park, a Pittsburgh-based concept with more than 75 locations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, told the source a plethora of explanations can mean food is locally sourced. 

"Every company that you're going to run into is going to have a different definition for local," said Moore.

Moore suggested that places consider foods locally sourced if they're within a 150-mile radius. Narrowing down the search can make it easier for chefs to go out and hunt for such items. 

Research farms in the area
Once chefs have a better understanding of what they're looking for, they should seek out farmers markets and farms in the area. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the number of farms across the U.S. is about 2.2 million. This means that despite the decrease of family farms around the country over the last few years, there are still plenty of places offering homegrown foods, many of which might not be on chefs' radar. 

In a similar vein, chefs should also have a firm grasp on foods that are in season. Trying to locate brussels sprouts during the summer would be a waste of time, as the veggies are harvested in cool weather.

Despite a decrease in family-owned farms, plenty of farm stands thrive in today's economy. Despite a decrease in family-owned farms, plenty of farm stands thrive in today's economy.

Start out small 
Chefs should start small by picking out toppings for a flatbread or a veggie that will be made into a side dish. Picking out locally sourced veggies little by little prevents waste and keeps food costs low. 

Locally sourced dishes that don't sell out aren't considered a failure. They're an opportunity for improvement. A roasted carrots dish might not jive with other menu items or the restaurant's clientele. Not selling much of a dish could simply mean that chefs must revamp the preparation or take it off the menu. 

Over time, as chefs continue to visit farmers markets, they'll develop a better sense of what clients like. Giving regular business to local farm stands is the best way to ensure that these places stay in business and Americans get their fix of locally sourced foods. 

Gripping news brought to you by Shoes For Crews, the trusted leader in safety footwear for more than 30 years.

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