The idea of getting to know your dinner before you eat it continues to grow in popularity.
Farmer’s market outings are replacing grocery store visits and we are making positive efforts to appreciate where our next meal is coming from, now more than ever. Restaurant menus boast phrases like “farm to table” or “locally sourced,” which certainly sounds like a great match for our personal food sensibilities.
All of this information is helpful in educating people about what they are eating. In addition to the enjoyment of a higher-quality, more creative dining experience, the real benefits of conscientious food sourcing seems to be the growing desire people have to know what they are putting into their bodies.
The farm-to-table movement is changing how we approach dining out and is giving people an entirely new perspective about restaurants.
What are the real benefits of farm to table?
“Farm to table” and other expressions shouldn’t just become meaningless buzzwords. Guests should know what to expect from a farm-to-table experience, and should be able to identify whether a restaurant is throwing the term around loosely without upholding the substance of it.
There are two core benefits of eating farm to table and locally sourced food.
More creative seasonal menus
One of the best things about a restaurant that focuses on truly fresh and local ingredients is the imagination in the constantly changing menu. Yes, depending on your region and season, this means that some items will come and go from the menu periodically, but for every item that disappears, a completely new option should arise. After all, eating the same dish year round loses some of its appeal when the quality changes to get long-distance or preserved ingredients.
Legitimate farm-to-table cooking means that when the best local tomatoes aren’t in season—you shouldn’t be able to order a caprese salad. However, various seasons are marked by specific fruits and vegetables, where you’ll find yourself getting excited about the upcoming availability of wonderful artichokes or eggplant. This kind of seasonal and local relationship inspires dishes like butternut squash tortelli with wild mushrooms and fresh Georgia shrimp scampi with blood oranges.
The best ingredients for the time and location should always be the showcase, and the results are drenched in creativity.
Farm to table cooking implies that there was a short process between when a food is harvested and when it is eaten. Saying “farm to table” precludes “farm to warehouse to table” or “farm to processing plant to table.”
Vegetables and fruits that were harvested more recently should have a crisper texture, and fresh meats should be more tender. The taste and aroma of any fresh food should be full and complex and free of strange smells or flavors. In appearance, fresh food almost always looks fuller and has a brighter color.
Overall, freshness means a much better experience for your senses and allows for a different experience altogether depending on how available fresh food is for you.
Make sure the restaurant’s definition of “farm to table” meets your standards
With all of these emerging trends and titles, it’s important to remember that a positive label doesn’t always mean you’ll get the product you expect.
It’s important to ask questions about what fresh really means when it comes to your food. Since the law defining what “fresh” is only means that the food is unprocessed in certain ways, how can you know what the term represents when dining out?
While the term is loose, a discerning diner can ask questions of the staff and examine the menu or website. Yes, “fresh” does not have a definitive amount of time attached to it, but there are industry standards. For example, at top restaurants, the common term “fresh fish” often means that someone caught your seafood in the past couple of days and the chef built tonight’s dishes around this wonderfully fresh protein (sea to table!).
You can ask your server when your seafood was delivered and where it came from, which is better than simply hoping it’s fresh. You might be pleasantly surprised.
The difference really is in the details. A great restaurant should be honest and transparent about the facts while doing the absolute best to provide a real farm-to-table experience. Some items can be found locally but not organic, and vice versa. Some ingredients for various cultural cuisines are simply not available even when the chef and diner need them, and that’s okay.
A perfect restaurant probably still can’t boast being local, fresh, 100% organic, and having a completely GMO-free menu, but they will invest in higher-quality organic flour for pasta, locally sourced chicken, and care about providing as much clean eating as they can.
Read more about local and fresh farms in Georgia
We have a great relationship with respected area farms that provide fresh, local food for restaurants in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Here are several that we trust and recommend.
Riverview Farms – Ranger, GA
Native Seafood – Brunswick, GA
Split Cedar Farms – Ellenwood, GA