As a board member for the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), Jamie Moore, director of sourcing and sustainability for Eat'n Park Hospitality Group, which owns Parkhurst Dining Services and Cura Hospitality, had tried to get a class that connected farmers to chefs for PASA’s conference for three years. He finally took matters into his own hands and created the class himself for this year’s conference, which was held earlier this month. Moore spoke to FSD about creating the curriculum and what the chefs took away from the experience.
I serve on the board of directors for PASA. PASA’s goal is to provide education to farmers that want to convert to more sustainable practices. One of the things that I noticed when going to the conferences and being active with them was that they had farmers, but they didn’t have eaters. Here we were teaching all these farmers about how to be more sustainable in their practices, but we forgot about the eaters. I really felt it was important to incorporate the folks who were preparing the food. We wanted to get the chefs to understand a little bit more about what makes the farmers tick and why they are growing food more sustainable. Why they are raising beef on pasture? What does this all mean? We really wanted to give a good sense of an education to the people who are preparing it.
I had been pitching it to the board for about three years, and every year it was, “we don’t have the time or commitment to do it this year.” Finally, this year, I just did it myself. I felt that it was needed. We took it to the next level and ended up bringing in some additional chefs from all over the state. We had 60 slots that we filled and we had a waiting list of 10 people. If we would have marketed it even more I think we would have had no problem filling up 200 slots.
The class was for two days. We started with a visit to the Penn State meat lab and we broke down a lamb and a hog. Basically, we learned the different cuts you are getting from those animals and how they can be utilized. If you were to purchase an entire animal, how would you use it on your menu? The second session was a mini food show. We had some local cheese producers and other local businesses and the attendees had the chance to sample the items. We had some folks that were making their own charcuterie, so the attendees got to try some different lunchmeats and cured meats. That was a lot of fun. I think a lot of folks who attended made some connections there and will continue to buy from these folks.
The second day we ended up having a discussion with a farmer who was raising grass-fed beef. We got a really good sense of what makes his beef different than conventional beef. Why would I purchase something that is more expensive as a chef and menu it without getting much of a difference? We talked about the different inputs that are required to raise conventional beef compared with pastured. With pasturing we don’t have to do much. We allow the animal to eat the grass that is grown. We’re not relying on an intensive crop like corn to raise this animal. Yes, it does take longer to raise, but it’s certainly much more sustainable. It was a good education for the chefs to think, “OK, if I’m going to menu this item then why is my customer going to pay more for it? How can I menu it?” So then we went into a menuing class where we talked about how to market local and sustainable ingredients on the menu. Now that you are convinced that this is a better thing to buy, why and how am I going to menu it? How am I going to feature it to get that customer who is walking through the door and is used to a certain price but is now going to pay a little more? I wouldn’t say that was the most difficult section to educate the chefs about, but it was the most challenging because it ultimately is more expensive and it’s going to be a little bit more difficult to menu that item, but we think it’s worth it.
Getting the chefs to get on a conference call. [Laughs] Honestly, the biggest challenge was trying to find the curriculum I wanted to get across. I think we can do a better job next year. The feedback we got was very positive, but I heard from the chefs that they wanted the class to be a little bit more hands on. You have to remember who we are teaching. If we were teaching a bunch of teachers then I think lectures would be fine. However, I’m teaching a bunch of chefs who want to have their hands into the mix. They also wanted more networking opportunities.
One of the biggest trends we are starting to see is connecting farms and chefs. How do we get farms or growing areas aligned with restaurants or dining centers. We are starting to see a lot more chefs growing their own food to make them different from other locations. There was a specific chef who talked about that who had a farmer come in and farm his land in the back of his restaurant. We think that model is something we are going to see a lot more of. I think we can have an educational class about how to start a backyard garden.
I think my recommendation would be to get a farmer involved from the beginning. I relied on farmers to give me feedback on experiences they had dealing with chefs. There is a lot of terminology out there so even the chefs don’t always know what they are getting. Finding out the farmers’ and chefs’ challenges and teaching them how to communicate with each other is a big issue. I think it’s also important to get a farmer who is already selling to the foodservice industry. There is a big difference between a farmer who sells to a farmers’ market and one who sells to foodservice operations.