The food world’s story du jour? It’s the examination of farm-to-table practices in the Florida metro region by the Tampa Bay Times restaurant critic Laura Reiley.
“Farm to Fable” (find it at bit.ly/26dJsGQ) revealed widely pervasive deception among chefs, restaurateurs and farmers market vendors, namely that claims of “locally raised,” “organic,” “sustainably raised” and “non-GMO” ingredients routinely lacked credibility.
The series went viral when it was published last week, prompting much discussion across the country. Here’s the reaction from four major Twin Cities farm-to-table practitioners.
Alex Roberts, chef/owner of Restaurant Alma and Brasa: “Really good work by Laura Reiley. It is really crazy that people are flat-out lying about their sourcing to create an impression and charge more money. It doesn’t surprise me … there is just so much greed in the world.
“We make a big effort to be completely transparent at my places, but at times even our menus are slow to be updated if something is unavailable or we run out of one product and we must substitute another.
“It is precisely why I stopped including the farmers’ names in menu descriptions years ago. The farmers, growers and suppliers we list on the back of our menus capture who we source the majority of our food from. It would be lying to ever say 100 percent; no one can accomplish that standard.”
Lenny Russo, chef/owner of Heartland Restaurant & Wine Bar: “Minneapolis-St. Paul isn’t Tampa, but I would venture to guess that there are similar issues here.
“I see all sorts of outrageous claims on menus. Making claims of no antibiotics, no preservatives and no GMOs is very difficult to substantiate. If something comes packed in a can, such as a cooking oil, it’s virtually impossible to make that claim. Best to let people know that the restaurant is striving to maintain those standards.
“If a restaurant menu does not reflect prices that would be consistent with highly selective and small-farmer-grown and -harvested products, then it’s pretty likely that commodity is being used.
“There is a big difference in buying commodity chicken for 99 cents per pound versus free-range and organic chicken for more than $2 per pound. Grass-fed beef is far more expensive than commodity grain-fed beef. You get the picture.
“I would suggest that the consumer ask questions. If the answers are not available or are insufficient, then the buyer should be very skeptical.”
Danny Schwartzman, owner of Common Roots Cafe: “It’s frustrating when the public narrative doesn’t match with what’s being done. The problem is that there’s very little data, very few numbers out there.
“The food world is awash with misinformation, so having real data is important. When we opened in 2007, we committed to local sourcing at the highest level possible. We track those purchases, every month, and post them on our website. I haven’t seen anyone else track this kind of information.
“Over the years, I’ve been surprised by how few customers ever ask us about these numbers. Even so, these numbers keep me connected to our mission, and that’s supporting local farmers and serving high-quality food.”
Beth Fisher, chef at Wise Acre Eatery, which operates its own farm: “ ‘Farm to table,’ that’s what people want to hear, and they all kind of swallow the pill. But here at this restaurant, the folks at our farm really work hard to get us what we need. I’m really proud of everything we accomplish with our farm goods, and the way we preserve stuff, and the way we make it last into the next year.
“I’m not out there to deceive anyone. Every animal protein we use comes off the farm: chickens, hogs, steers, ducks, turkeys. Right now I’m still using celeriac, carrots and beets that we wintered over. I’m happy to use it because it’s from the farm. If I have to buy the occasional box of onions, I buy organic. I walk the walk that I talk.”
Read full reviews and other restaurant news at startribune.com/dining.