Sunday, April 25, 2010

Chefs, Wake up! They are trying to fool you.

This week, The New York Times published a story by Jennifer Steinhauer entitled “In Los Angeles, Jidori Chicken Is the New Kid in the Coop”.  In the article she says “It’s a hyper-local specialty item, basic but beloved for its unrivaled freshness.”

First, Jidori Chicken is a trademark owned by a Los Angles slaughter house, Mao Foods, Inc.  It is not a breed a chicken, it is not a “hyper-local specialty item”, it is a conventional commercial chicken raised in traditional large commercial chicken houses using an unsustainable bird from Hubbard genetics just like Tyson and Perdue chickens and essentially every other chicken in American restaurants and grocery stores.

Obviously, consumers, reporters and chefs have been fooled by many marketing strategies of the commercial poultry industry.  Here are just a few examples to watch out for.

“No Growth Hormones or Steroids”.  Mao Foods, Inc.’s website,, uses this claim as have many larger commercial poultry companies.  The reality is that the USDA has never allowed growth hormones or steroids to be administered to poultry (or pork) in the United States.  In fact, the USDA has a regulation that if a producer puts that claim on a label it must be followed by the phrase “Federal regulations do not allow growth hormones or steroids to be administered to poultry”. 

So why make the claim? For two reasons; 1) consumers are concerned about growth hormones and steroids that are administered to beef cattle and lambs so they think that stating that they are not administered to poultry will make their product appear “special”, and 2) because the chickens are fed antibiotics every day of their life and they know that some chefs and consumers will confuse the two issues and again assume that their product is “special”.  And it worked.  It fooled the NY Times who apparently did not do their fact checking.

Fortunately for consumers, the Federal Trade Commission and the USDA have forced Tyson to stop using that claim, in 2001, as it was misleading and deceptive.  Unfortunately that has not stopped Jidori Chicken and Mao Foods, Inc., from using the same deceptive claim.

“Cage Free”.  No commercial meat chickens are raised in cages. That is an egg-laying issue (and a different type of bird) and fortunately high animal welfare labels like Animal Welfare Approved are providing independent third party verification that laying chickens are not kept in cages, as well.  But the ills of commercial chicken are far greater.  As depicted in the movie, Food, Inc., commercial chickens are raised in large chicken houses and they grow so fast and become so fat that they will generally die at about 45 days of age from organ failure or from broken legs that were unable to support their unnatural weight.  So, making the claim that a meat chicken is raised “cage free” is stating the obvious in hopes that a chef or a consumer is fooled into thinking that their product is “special”.

“Free Range”.  The USDA only requires that a door be open in a chicken house for 51% of the day for the chicken to be labeled “Free Range”.  No chicken actually has to go out the door and in large commercial poultry houses, the chickens are too fat and too weak to forage in a pasture.  US Food Services has a private label chicken called Ashley Farms and they state their chicken is “Better than Free Range”.  Why, because “ they are completely protected, safe from the dangers of the outdoors. There is never any risk of exposure to disease, never any stress caused by exposure to the elements, and never any chance the chickens will eat or drink something they should not.”  Yes, they actually say that.

They only way a chef can be certain the chicken, duck or turkey they buy is free-range is to visit the farm and see the birds foraging on pastures.  There is no way to ever believe the claim of “Free Range” on the label.

“Organic”.  If the product is organic, the USDA Inspection label will have the USDA Organic logo printed on it.  If it is not on the label, it is not organic.  If a farmer argues the point, ask to see their organic certification and ask for it to be put on the label.  Even then, caution is necessary as recently Whole Foods was caught using the USDA Organic Label on product imported from China that had never been certified (  Once again, the owner of Mao Foods made the claim that their chickens were organic and the NY Times did not fact check - it is becoming ever so easy to fool the culinary public.

”Sustainable”.  This word is used often, especially by back-yard farmers with a few truly free-range birds.  The problem is that sustainable means that the birds can pro-create to sustain multiple generations.  With the exception of standard bred poultry or heritage poultry, all other birds come from hatcheries where the genetics of the birds are owned by a company named Hubbard.  Hubbard is to poultry what Monsanto is to corn. 

Hubbard has created hybrid meat chicken, generally a Cornish cross bird, which is unable to naturally mate and the next generation of birds must be purchased again from Hubbard or one of the hatcheries that buys the birds or eggs from Hubbard. 

Farmers who have birds that can have sex, produce fertile eggs and actually have babies born on the farm, like every other farm animal in America, are the only sustainable poultry farmers.  So, Chefs, ask your poultry farmer “were the babies born on the farm and do you breed your own meat chickens?”  If the answer is yes, they are sustainable.  If the answer is no, you might as well buy a Tyson or Perdue chicken from Walmart.  It is the same bird.

Unfortunately, the best way to ensure that you are not being taken by misleading or deceptive claims is to “see where your food comes from”.  That is not always easy.  An alternative is to rely on independent third party verification, such as Animal Welfare Approved, that requires that poultry is truly “free range”, slow-growing, not fed antibiotics, and humanely slaughtered as well.

With the premium chefs are willing to pay for “hyper-local specialty items” the enticement to make spectacular claims is ever increasing.  Slaughter facilities like Mao Foods, Inc., that are buying birds from commercial producers are creating creative labels to market the product as their own.  Illegal, no.  Deceptive, yes.  Get to know your farmer – and the butchers at local slaughter houses.  They are both important in creating great food – but if you want to know where your food comes from, you must visit a farm.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Menu Integrity

White Marble Farms is not a farm at all. It's a deceptive ploy by a marketing team targeting the dining public who cares about where their food comes from. My advice to you as a chef: If you have this 'farm' name on your menu, take it off immediately. You are doing a disservice to real farmers trying to make a living raising animals humanely. I would urge you to seek third party accreditation such as the AWA label. The truth is, some chefs have been lied to, but most know this information and they actually receive a discount through a large food distributor to place the name "White Marble Farm" on the menu. If your a real farmer and your farm name is on the same menu as WMF then I would urge you to reconsider selling to that chef.

Wow, I've wanted to get that off my chest for awhile. So there it is.

The Farmer has recently found out, see his last post, that some chefs don't understand menu integrity. What is menu integrity? It means that if you, as a Chef, deem it necessary to write a farms NAME on the menu, than you've taken the time to at least do ONE or SEVERAL of the following:
  • Talked with the farmer face to face or several times over the phone
  • Actually visited the farm to see the animals, their temperament, the grass, the Farmer
  • Tasted the product and placed an order
  • Trained your staff on the location of the farm, who the Farmer is, why you buy the product
Menu integrity means being truthful to your guests, the same guests who are paying for the product from the farm that you've so scrutinized and worked with to be able to justify the cost and time it takes to source locally or regionally. Menu integrity means that if you state "we use local and organic produce when ever possible" translates to the fact that you use it when ever it makes sense for your restaurant. And that is telling the truth. It doesn't mean you are 100% local and organic ALL the time. By all means that's a great accomplishment but VERY rare. Fooling your guests into thinking you are someone or thing your not is about as low as it gets in the food world. And it is a small world.

The meaning of good and bad, of better and worse, is simply helping or hurting.--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Working Together - Trusting One Another

It’s becoming ever more difficult for consumers to know really what they are eating – and the number of stars or diamonds associated with the restaurant provides little confidence.  Over the past several months, several news stories have highlighted the false and often misleading claims of purveyors, stores, and restaurants as “organic”, “natural” or “local”.  NBC News in Washington, DC ran a recent story about produce in Whole Food Stores carrying the USDA Organic Label that actually comes from China and has never been inspected or audited by an organic monitoring organization.  Jane Black of the Washington Post also wrote a front-page story about the “local and seasonal product” claims of the much acclaimed DC restaurant “Founding Farmers”.  Farmers, commercial growers, and large truck grocers and  have been caught claiming “free-range” or “better than free-range” poultry when the birds live on concrete floors in large chicken houses and never venture into the out-of-doors. 

“The Farmer”, a year ago, provided lamb samples to a highly acclaimed, four diamond, resort in Central Virginia from which one order (a two-week supply) was then placed.  Unfortunately, the resort’s chef wanted a larger rack and loin that would be commonly found on Colorado lamb and at Sysco prices – from which they were currently purchasing their lamb.  Thus, “The Farmer” moved on, having only supplied the resort with a singular order, and peddled his lamb to several “Top Chef cheftestants”, Iron Chef America challengers, and James Beard Award nominees.

Recently, “The Farmer” heard that some changes at the resort may have occurred and that a new Chef may have been hired, so a scan of their website was in order to see what changes, if any, had been made.  Their website indicated the same Executive Chef who preferred the price of Colorado lamb to the local Virginia lamb is still in charge.

So imagine “The Farmer’s” surprise when he looked at their menu and saw that only one farm, only one local purveyor, was listed on their menu and it was his.  There it is, “Border Springs Farm Lamb Loin”.  Here it is Saturday, March 14, 2010 and the singular order of Border Springs Farm Lamb was delivered in early April of 2009.

It would have been a surprise if the farm name had made it to print on their menu with the delivery of only a single order.  It is amazing to see that some 12 months later, the farm and its product is listed as the only “local” menu item.

Farmers have an ethical responsibility to Chefs to represent their product honestly.  Many farmers, and “The Farmer” as well, use a third-party auditing organization to lend credibility to their product claims.  “The Farmer” is proud to carry the label “Animal Welfare Approved” which involves an annual on-farm audit from their staff as well as an on-site audit of their slaughter facility. 

Likewise, Chefs have a responsibility to represent the farmer’s products honestly and ethically.  If the farmer says they raise Certified Naturally Grown products, they should not represent them as “organic”.  If the baby chickens or turkeys are not born on the farm, they should not say they are “sustainable”.  And by all means, if you are not buying a local farmer’s product, you don’t list them on your menu.

Supporting local farmers is a grand and noble thing. Serving great local food is devine. Claiming you do and then not even buy their product is simply despicable.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Farmer and Chef in The National Culinary Review

This months issue of The National Culinary Review features Farmer Craig Rogers and Chef Joshua Smith.

pg26-29_NCR0310_Lamb _1_

"Reprinted from The National Culinary Review, March 2010, Vol. 34, #3 ©2010 The American Culinary Federation, Inc. All rights reserved."

Building Relationships Between Chefs & Farmers

Robert Perry, Chefs Collaborative Board Member and Guest Blogger

A little about Robert Perry (taken from The University of Kentucky website)

Bob Perry is a native Kentuckian, an avid gardener, food researcher and self-taught chef. His career has included stints as professional bartender; private yacht chef off the coasts of the Caribbean & New England; Chef/Owner of Farmer's Hall Restaurant in the oldest continuous Farmer's Society building in Pendleton, South Carolina; consultant for high speed ferries in Japan and on the Great Lakes; general manager of the oldest Steamboat in America, the Belle of Louisville; and general manager/executive chef of My Old Kentucky Dinner Train in Bardstown, Kentucky where he founded the National Dinner Train Symposium.

As the Director of Food Service and the Commonwealth Executive Chef for the Kentucky Department of Parks he redeveloped the concepts of 17 resort park restaurants, 3 employee cafes and the Café at the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea. His program to facilitate government operations purchasing produce, meat and dairy products directly from farmers gained national attention.

He is currently the Coordinator for the Food Systems Initiative in the College of Agriculture at the University of Kentucky and serves as the hub of the sustainable food and farm diversification network. His task is to connect university research and extension efforts with governmental agencies, advocacy groups, farmers and chefs.

Bob lives in a 120 year old home on an historic farm in Garrard County with his wife and two sons.

Building Relationships Between Chefs & Farmers

Bob Perry

A Day in the Live

It is 3 o’clock in the afternoon and your day’s work is not even close to half over. You are having trouble with one of your pieces of equipment and you’ll have to stop working to fix it or the rest of your day will be ruined. You would buy a new one but margins are tight and even though it takes extra time to fix it, repairing it is still cheaper than replacing it so you have to take the time. You are sweaty, smelly, hot, tired, with who knows what on your clothes and you have a cut on one finger that’s complicating matters. Some of the supplies you ordered did not arrive so now you will have to make more time to go out and get more, but being short on help right now that is going to be difficult. The weather is threatening too and if it turns really bad it will ruin your day’s work but you will still have all the expenses to deal with.

This could be a normal day for either a farmer or a chef, and if the two understood how difficult and similar each others work life were it would help to foster strong relationships between them.

Chefs and Farmers: More Similar than Different

  1. They both work very long hours in less than optimal environments.
  2. Labor is a constant problem both in finding people and paying them.
  3. The weather is a constant threat to their business.
  4. Their profit margin is very slim, especially considering their efforts.
  5. They are affected by many factors and regulations out of their control.
  6. In spite of all of this, they eat well, probably better than 99% of everyone else!
  7. They have chosen their path in life not for money but because they are passionate about it and love what they do. It is not a career choice but a lifestyle choice.


Selling directly from farms to restaurants continues to be a hot topic. This momentum has been gaining ground since the 1970’s but only in the last few years has it really gained strength and become widespread. Farm to restaurant sales have primarily been concentrated in fine dining operations as they have the most flexible menus and have the most affluent customers who are willing and able to pay higher prices for fresher and more unique food.

In addition to the awareness of the ecological, social and economic benefits of buying local food promoted by advocacy groups, other factors are also behind the expansion of local food systems and direct farm sales. Fuel prices that have increased the cost of production and transportation of commodity food are beginning to erase price differences with locally produced food. The explosion of farmer’s markets has greatly increased opportunities for farmers to sell direct. Food safety issues such as the spinach, tomato & pepper recalls and numerous E-coli related beef recalls are prompting the public to ask where our food comes from.

We are facing a steep re-learning curve across the entire spectrum of restaurant operations, producers and consumers. We are actually not creating a new system of local food, but partially re-creating the system as it existed prior to WWII. For the producer this could almost be called neo-farming, as many of the practices and procedures being utilized can be found in historical cooperative extension publications. These practices coupled with the wealth of new knowledge gained in the interim offer a sustainable farming system with incredible potential. However, the most difficult task is to re-develop local and regional distribution and markets for their products.

Chef Issues with Direct Farm Sales

#1 It is too hard and takes too much time.

It is easier for chefs to order everything they need from one source and have only one delivery. Large food service companies and even smaller regional companies offer not only fresh and frozen food but also restaurant supplies, pots, pans, furniture and equipment. The best sales reps for these companies get to know the chefs and their businesses intimately and build strong relationships with them.

Foodservice companies constantly offer new products and samples and try to stay ahead of the chef’s needs. Because these sales reps have many accounts they can compare business practices across a wide variety of restaurants and look for the best practices to share with all their customers. They are “in the know” when it comes to helping chefs and many function as unpaid consultants. This is a trend in the industry and the larger companies train their sales reps this way.

Ordering, especially for larger operations, can now be done online at any time of the day. This is especially good for chefs when they can take time at the end of a day, often late at night. The prices are listed on the website and the chef can decide whether or not they want a particular item without having to contact a sales rep.

#2 Local produce is not as consistent as wholesale produce or as easy to use.

Produce packing houses have the advantage of being able to size produce exactly the same since they have other outlets for odd sizes and the economy of scale to discard less than perfect produce. A case of tomatoes, squash, bell peppers, etc. will contain produce of almost identical size, weight, color, etc. making it easier to utilize.

Most restaurants now rely on bagged lettuce that has already been trimmed and washed, all they must do is open the bag and pour it in a bowl. Many types of produce can also be purchased ready to use, such as diced or sliced onions and peppers.

#3 Local produce costs more than wholesale.

This is not necessarily the case, but is a perception of many chefs. Pricing is one of the most difficult aspects, the producer must ask enough to make a profit but must also keep in mind the chef is worried about making a profit also. Neither has a large bottom line and price is always an issue.

#4 Availability, Quantity & Packaging

Foodservice companies rarely run out of products, and can be counted on to have items on short notice. It is the easy convenience that makes it hard for farmers to compete with. They also use standardized packaging that is easy to identify and to store. Many commercial varieties of produce are also treated in some way to extend shelf life, making them more economical but not improving taste. Storage in restaurants is always a problem, very few ever have more storage than they need, they usually don’t have a barn.

First Steps for Farmers Seeking Restaurant Sales

Every report, pamphlet or website concerned with helping farmers sell to restaurants advises farmers that the most critical thing they can do is build a relationship with the chef, and you can’t do that until you get to know them and their business.

  1. Farmers need to figure out how wide their delivery area can be and determine what restaurants within that area they should approach.
  2. Learn as much as you can about the restaurants. Conduct a web search first; many restaurants list their menus and information about their operation and personnel on websites. Ask friends and neighbors if they know anything about the restaurant or the chef.
  3. Eat there! If you want their business reciprocate by giving them yours, especially if you ask for a meeting on a slow day at the end of the lunch service. Plan to eat lunch there towards the end of their service time. It will give you something to talk about with the chef and show that you appreciate their work and is the best way to learn about their operation and menu.
  4. Take them samples, it doesn’t have to be a lot, but simply dropping off samples of early harvest gives them a taste of what is to come.
  5. Get a job there in the off season. Sound crazy? If you need off farm income in the winter months try offering yourself as part time help. You will learn a lot about how restaurants work and really build a relationship with the chef.

Business Practices

  1. Always be available either by cell phone or promptly return calls and emails. Learn how to text message, it is the fastest way to communicate and chefs like to use it.
  2. Keep the chef informed of upcoming harvests, not only the variety but how much and how long they can expect it.
  3. Offer consistent sizing, save your odd sizes for farmer’s markets and other sales avenues, restaurants need consistency.
  4. For produce, offering to sell to a restaurant near the same price they are currently paying from their regular sources. This method was proven with the KY state parks project and will account for price fluctuations during the growing season. This is especially important for those producers who utilize season extension methods as prices are higher in the shoulder seasons.
  5. Be as flexible as possible to delivery schedules and be prepared to deliver on short notice if the chef suddenly has an unanticipated need for product. Being able to save the day for a chef with products will really help develop the relationship.
  6. Develop an invoice system with two copies and have both signed. In a busy restaurant invoices sometimes get lost, follow up with a monthly statement.
  7. Ask when the best time to deliver is! This varies for every restaurant and may depend on whether or not they serve lunch.
  8. Be clean. Showing up in a mud covered truck in dirty clothes and boots is not a good image. Always take the time to present a good image. No one expects you in a coat and tie but a clean shirt and manure free shoes are a good idea.
  9. Be nice, a smile goes a long way.


Chefs should continue to incorporate locally produced food however they can, it is good for business. No one expects you to go totally local and anything you can purchase locally will help develop your local food system.

Farmers should continue to expand diversity on their farms, the more items they can offer chefs the more attractive they become as a vendor. Seek to build relationships with chefs, ask them what they really want to cook then produce it.

Advocates should try to help our existing small processors become more efficient and support new processors and continue to seek government support in the form of grants and low interest loans for small farms, small processors and distributors.

We all need to guard against regulations that benefit large producers and processors and impose burdens on small ones. Small eco-friendly processors and on-farm operations do not have the same problems that large scale farms and processors have and should have different regulations based on size.

Parts of this paper were presented at the University of Kentucky Ag Advisory Council, January 17, 2007

Thank you Bob, The Farmer and The Chef.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Chefs Collaborative

The Farmer and The Chef Blog is featured on the Chefs Collaborative Blog...
We are truly honored.
If you have a moment, do yourself a favor and browse their website. The resources it contains for Farmers and Chefs are great.

And...mark your calendars!

Chefs Collaborative National Summit:
Redefining Our Culinary Traditions-
Building on the Past to Ensure a Sustainable Future
October 3-5, 2010
Boston, Massachusetts

Call for proposals!

Chefs Collaborative is seeking ideas and proposals for workshops and panels at the 2010 National Summit in Boston, Massachusetts.

We expect 300 chefs and culinary professionals to join us for this educational and community-building conference focused on the theme of integrating sustainable principles into regional culinary and agricultural heritage. We are open to any and all ideas related to sustainable food and the culinary profession, although preference will be given to proposals that align with the theme.

The Summit program committee will be accepting and reviewing all proposals received by the deadline, March 12, 2010. Click here to learn more and to download a proposal submission form.

Please feel free to contact Melissa Kogut, Executive Director, at 617-236-5286 or with any questions about the proposal process or general questions regarding the National Summit.