Sustainability is all about sourcing locally. Sourcing good quality local produce is hard work as you have to go out and find it - it doesn't always come to you. It is a long process, but one which over the years has enabled me to develop very good relationships with suppliers all across my home county, Kent.
To buy locally sourced ingredients means to buy seasonally, and a natural result of that is better quality food, which tastes just as it should. Anybody interested in food will share my passion in that respect. However, I am keen to take this passion further than most by actively seeking local produce to be used in all three of my restaurants. Whilst this is paramount for the newly opened 'Richard Phillips at Chapel Down' in particular, I will not lower the standards of my ingredients in order to do so.
As well as quality, another vital factor to consider is consistency. I need to know that my suppliers are able to keep up with demand, which has not been easy for some local suppliers in the past. However, Kent has now more produce than ever to offer.
This has allowed me to serve my 'Chapel Down' customers potatoes from just one mile up the road, as well as fish from Rye harbour and Sussex beef. I guess if we are talking 'food miles' I can deliver something unique. The wine used in a large number of my dishes from the Chapel Down vineyard on site is sourced just yards away. Does that make it a 'food yard'?
Sourcing locally has unlimited benefits for businesses in the catering industry. Personally, I can interact directly and easily with the farmers who supply the produce. Not long ago, my potato supplier offered to grow and develop the perfect 'chipping' potato for me. Whatever the produce, it is in turn, fresher than that of further afield. And as it is seasonal, it is generally cheaper. These benefits are all passed on to my customers, reflected in the quality and price of their meals.
Using suppliers close by helps local businesses in their bid to develop and profit, which will ultimately improve the local economy. Knowledge of this has encouraged me to spread my wings further in the local fields. As opposed to stopping just at food, I am keen to source other materials locally. The interior artwork at 'Richard Phillips at Chapel Down' includes wine barrels from the vineyard and horse hair light shades. Where we could, we used British products. The rustic atmosphere generated matches that of the restaurant's idyllic surroundings.
Sustainability and provenance are hot topics, which food, naturally, has become part of, especially given today's rising costs. I have always been an advocate for local produce and keen to back local farmers and suppliers. This is not about me jumping on the bandwagon of a topical issue, but instead something that I am proud to have achieved in my businesses. My encouragement of sourcing locally does not match that of other related issues. The organic fad, for example, is just that; a fad, a trend losing support. It is important to remember that farmers nowadays use as little sprays and pesticides as possible in response to peoples' highly publicised concerns. By using organic produce in restaurants, prices unsurprisingly have to increase. And why do that to customers when quality, local ingredients can match, if not better, the experience for them?
My chefs also demonstrate this enthusiasm.
Shooting on a regular basis, we are eager to test the quality of local game. Just the other week we shot over 200 pigeons in Kent, which, the following day, were on the menus of my restaurants. It is so important that my team and I have involvement right the way through from the field to the plate. Looking to the future, I will continue my efforts in sourcing local and sustainable quality produce - I am currently spending a lot of time with my suppliers to make this happen. One goal is to have 65% of the 'Richard Phillips at Chapel Down' menu comprised of local produce. I am also in talks with a farm in Winchelsea about farming animals solely for my three restaurants, and 'Winchelsea Farm Kitchen' due to open in February 2009. Here we are planning to use a mobile abattoir so that animals are not under stress during transportation. After all, a happy animal produces tender, flavoursome meat.
So, is home grown always better? Yes. When you know what you are doing. I am in no way trying to preach to other chefs. Sourcing local, quality ingredients works for me, for my businesses, and for my customers. I intend to stick to it.