03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Big Trend: America's Chefs "Discover" Sustainable, Local Sourcing for Food

According to a new survey of American chefs,
sustainability and local sourcing and nutrition are the hot culinary
trends. They’re much later to the party than trailblazers like Alice
Waters and local co-ops, but they are very welcome indeed.

More than 1,800 professional chefs ranked nearly 215 food and beverage items,
preparation methods and culinary themes to reveal the hottest
restaurant menu trends in 2010.

Well I’ll be dipped in farm-fresh sweet cream.

But if something is a trend, does that mean it will wax and wane,
like other food trends in America? (Remember crème brulée? A perennial
favorite slipped from hot to not in just one year. It’s over.)

For a chef, buying local, sustainably produced ingredients is not a
fad but a core part of running a kitchen and a business. Sure it’s
easier to buy from food service giants like Sysco and US Food Service.
(Sysco’s definition of “local” for New York is anything east of the
Mississippi, according to John Mishanec of the Cornell Cooperative
Extension.) But then you’re dealing with a generic product.

Top 10 Trends

  1. Locally grown produce
  2. Locally sourced meats and seafood
  3. Sustainability
  4. Bite-size/mini desserts
  5. Locally produced wine and beer
  6. Nutritionally balanced children’s dishes
  7. Half-portions/smaller portions for a smaller price
  8. Farm/estate-branded ingredients
  9. Gluten-free/food-allergy consciousness
  10. Sustainable seafood

For a chef, buying local means you can actually do far less to food.
Imagine having to add sugar to beets? But you must, if they were picked
three weeks ago and shipped 3,000 miles to get to your walk-in.
Instead, as a chef, working with local means letting the ingredients
strut their stuff. That makes your job easier and often more inspiring.

In a recent interview with chef Joel Hough of Cookshop and Hundred
Acre in New York, he talked about convincing restaurant owners to go
with local products. In a competitive market like New York, you need to
do things differently to stand out. But here’s another hidden benefit:
His product costs may be higher but staff cost to prep locally-grown
food is far less. Good ingredients require less work. A smart
restaurant owner should factor those savings when purchasing.

But a “trend” becomes a movement only when patrons respond
favorably. Joel described the reaction at the front of the house in
CookShop to his farm-fresh ingredients: “This is the best salad I’ve
ever had.” “Where did you get these eggs?” “What in the world did you
to this NY strip steak?”

For chefs like Haugh, the answer will be “not much.” Let the taste
of quality ingredients shine through? There’s a lesson we can learn at
the farmers market, in our own kitchens and now, thankfully, through an
army of inspired chefs.

Further Reading

For Manhattan restaurants featuring sustainable ingredients, try this book Clean Plates