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Straight To The Source

Relationships Are Critical When It Comes To Picking Right Vendors

Friday, July 14, 2017
Steve Pike
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It’s difficult to find a hotel/resort restaurant these days that doesn’t tout some kind of “farm to table” menu in at least one of its restaurants. Chefs and food and beverage managers like to explain how they “source” as much as they can locally, meaning they buy from local farmers, produce vendors and fishermen whenever possible. Staying local is a good way to offer fresh foods, contain costs, manage inventory and give back to the community.

But how do chefs and F&B managers find the right farms and vendors? In places such as Florida and California, for example, there are no shortages of farms and fishermen so finding vendors isn’t a challenge. Having the skills and experience to find the vendors that best fit their respective menus, however, is far more challenging.

Finding the proper farmer who grows tomatoes, or the best rancher who raises beef, is kind of like being a scout for a team in the NFL or Major League Baseball. That is, it’s part analytics and part eyeball test. A correct scouting report can mean better food, happy customers and a bigger bottom line.

“Before deciding what farm to use, I do research to see what is available in the community,” said Frederic Delaire, executive chef at Loews Miami Beach Hotel. “I do online research, and speak with co-workers and colleagues. Once I have a list based on feedbacks and research, I contact the farmer to set up a meeting, explain who we are, what we do and what we are looking for. I believe it’s always important to build a relationship with the vendor first, and then ask the farmer to show us their products.

“I also like to read what’s new and trending and what is happening in our city in terms of produce and farming. Social media is also becoming a great way to learn about new purveyors and potential people to collaborate with and source from.

Venoy Rogers, executive chef at American Kitchen Bar & Grill at B Resort & Spa in Orlando, works along a similar line.

“The first thing I do is reach out to colleagues,” Rogers said. “I’m fortunate here in that I have good relationships with farmers. Another blessing is that my meat representative is a former chef, so he gives me everything from a chef’s point of view.

“You have got to want to be interested and involved in the final result. That kind of forces me to go out and try different things and say, ‘This works’ and ‘This might not work.’”

One of the best things happening to chefs now, said Jake Brenchley, chef de cuisine at Reunion Resort & Club in Orlando, is that a lot of farmers and produce companies are sub-contracting.

“Our primary produce supplier deals with a lot of farmers in Central Florida,” said Brenchley. “Every week it will send out price lists of everything that’s offered and the different farms. I don’t have to call the individual farms because they have already sub-contracted with a large produce company.”

Brian Archibald, director of food and beverage at The Boulders in Carefree, AZ, works hard on developing friendships with local farm families, so he can better understand their processes and procedures.

“Understanding the mindset of what they are trying to accomplish in our community,” said Archibald. “Generally, I will search the cities’ farmers markets for ‘real’ farmers who are producing something unique. A handful of farms we use will never be at a public market. They are small producers that just want to work with chefs at restaurants that will honor their ingredients.”

Taste, Archibald added, is everything.

“Just because it’s local doesn’t always quantify quality,” he said. “But there is a direct correlation with the freshest of something that was picked six hours before you get it or slaughtered and cleaned the same day you receive it. Fresh and quality are related when you’re also dealing with ingredients that are taken care of slowly and honestly—not grown for speed or chemically filled to produce larger crops.”

What kind of an "eye'' does it take to decide what farms to use?

“The people who are the most passionate are the ones I am looking for,” said Delaire. “I had a two-hour talk one day over an organic honey here at our hotel. Everything was explained to me and I learned so much. This is the kind of relationship we look for with our providers. I could feel the passion of the farmer talking about their product. It was addicting and we now have a wonderful partnership.”
Steve Pike
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Steve Pike is an award-winning golf writer and author who helped define golf business reporting in the early 1990s as the first Golf Business Editor for Golfweek magazine and later at Golf World and Golf Shop Operations magazines for Golf Digest. Pike further pioneered this genre at the PGA of America and Time Warner as the golf business writer and editor for PGA.com. He started in newspapers more than ...
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