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Know the source of your ingredients

17 April 2008

Slow-cooked shanks of lamb from animals left to graze on heather as they roam the wilderness of Scottish hill farms served with an olive oil mash OK, so while this sort of thing might work for a certain food retailer's advertising campaign, it's going a bit over the top for a menu description, but you get the idea.

Provenance seems to have become something of a buzz word in recent times, with retailers realising the marketing opportunity that lies in loudly declaring the origins of the produce they sell.

Of course, chefs who are passionate about what they do have always been concerned with the origin of the produce they use in their kitchen. Many will have specified the breed used in a particular dish on the menu long before it became fashionable to do so. But with consumers caught up in the issues that go hand-in-hand with provenance - animal welfare, high-quality produce and sustainability - there's a bigger need than ever for menu transparency.

The Meat & Livestock Commission implemented a campaign for menu transparency nearly five years ago. "In those five years consumer concern about the origin of meat served in food service outlets has grown," says Tony Goodger, trade sector manager for meat services at the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), which was launched on 1 April. "What's more, they commonly associate menu transparency with the perceived quality of establishments and their level of customer care. It is encouraging to see pubs and restaurants have responded to the issue and are increasingly meeting customer demands when it comes to food provenance and assurance."

Boutique hotel collection Malmaison and Hotel du Vin has firmly embraced this practice. All the hotels' brasseries have "Homegrown and Local" or "Land, Sea and Local" menus, in addition to the à la carte, featuring food producers in the region whose goods are grown ethically, naturally and, where possible, organically.

The idea occurred to Keith Shearer about two years ago while shopping at a large supermarket. "I thought that if the multi-nationals were trying to sell provenance it was something we could do with far more authenticity," he says.

Although the ingredients for the à la carte dishes come from the same suppliers as for the weekly-changing set-price local menus, the latter carry profiles of the suppliers alongside the list of dishes and have proved popular with diners, with uptake at 35%.

On the supply side, at the 1,200-acre Denham Estate in Suffolk, which is home to a herd of 3,000 fallow deer as well as traditional breeds of sheep and cattle, proprietor Michael Gliksten has noticed an increased demand for traditional and rare-breed meat.

"A lot of traditional breeds were replaced in the industrialisation of meat production because of the need to get it to the table quickly and in larger quantities and this led to a neglect of flavour," he says. "But this is changing and identifying the breed on a menu is having a remarkable effect on the dining public."

The issues of animal welfare and quality of produce are paramount and inextricably linked, Gliksten confirms. "A stressed animal doesn't eat well and will never produce well," he says. "Welfare is critical and chefs want to know how far animals have travelled to slaughter, for instance."

It's a similar story at the 5,000-acre Rhug Estate in Denbighshire, which cites taste, flavour, provenance, organic, integrity, service and quality as its key values. The estate produces 4,000 Welsh lambs a year - along with beef, pork, chicken and game.

"Animals that are fed well, are free to range and grow slowly have better muscles and result in better meat," says Philip Hughes, managing director of the estate. He feels strongly that chefs should be able to describe their produce and explain why it is more expensive on the menus. "Chefs should label menus to reassure customers that the food is safe, organic and that they can trust it. I know of restaurants that add inserts into menus explaining where their produce is from."

Chicken out

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's recent Chicken Out campaign boosted sales at Rhug by about 50%, according to Hughes. "We had to increase production in order to cope with the demand and explain to customers why our chickens, which need a 12-week turn-around period, were not readily available," he says.

Provenance and seasonality are prime concerns for Galvin at Windows head chef André Garrett when sourcing meat and poultry and creating menus. "Customers are getting more knowledgeable about the origin of their food and there is a lot of information on television, so it is important that we are selling the best produce," he says. "Intensive farming affects the quality of meat big time, as we saw with the BSE crisis. And from a moral perspective, you have to look after your animals."

Garrett favours meat from the West Country and stays in frequent contact with his butchers for sound advice on which cuts to buy and when. "The Cornish lamb we buy is fed on peaceful pastures down by the sea and I buy my pork from a man called Jimmy Butler in Weymouth who pours seawater into the wallows so that the salt gets into the pigs' skin creating a great crackling when you cook it."

Such stories make great marketing tools and Garrett says it makes sense to tell customers about the provenance of food, especially when chefs have taken the time to source the best products. "When I sourced my beef from Glenfine in Scotland I visited the farmers so that I could see how the animals were raised and trust what I was getting," he says.

Origin of food

Staff at Galvin at Windows receive training so that they can discuss the origin of food with customers and this is also flagged up on the menu. "I hope that consumer interest in provenance continues," Garrett says. "I think it is important for people to continue to learn about the process of production so that they can appreciate and understand why better-quality meat costs more."

A key benefit of running a restaurant in Scotland, says Andrew Fairlie, chef-patron of Andrew Fairlie Restaurant at Gleneagles, Perthshire, is the easy access to locally sourced good-quality meat and poultry. "It is hugely important that I have confidence in the meat I buy and that I know where the animals are from and how they are reared," he says.

Fortunately for Fairlie, his brother, Jim, is a shepherd, so he has access to quality lamb from a trusted source. "From an educational perspective it has been enlightening for the kitchen staff to learn through my brother about husbandry and the best times of the year to eat lamb," he says. "It also provides a great story to tell our customers."

Fairlie flags up which region the meat comes from on his menus to give the restaurant staff an opportunity to talk about the produce. "Many people are intimidated by two-Michelin-star restaurants because they expect them to be pompous and formal so I like to encourage interaction to lighten the atmosphere," he says.

He traces the growing interest in provenance back to the BSE outbreak. "I think the one good thing to come out of BSE was that people began to relate meat back to the animal and question where produce came from," he says.

Fairlie thinks the Chicken Out Campaign came as no surprise to many consumers. "People have always known about the issues raised in the campaign but now they are putting pressure on restaurants and not just the supermarkets," he says. This interest in provenance is something he thinks is here to stay. "It's forcing chefs to examine their menus differently and get out there to talk to more suppliers. Some find this frustrating and price prohibitive but others are finding it inspirational."

At Tom's Kitchen in Chelsea, the customers' hunger for knowledge about what they're eating is met with profiles of suppliers adorning the walls and the menu covers.

"It tells a little more of the story as to where it all comes from, and of how committed we are to a quality product and the farmer," says chef-proprietor Tom Aikens. "People are a lot more interested in where their food is coming from, so there is a link from the farmer to the customer and the customer feels a part of this."

Traceability

Aikens insists on complete traceability on all of his produce and will generally visit the farms of potential suppliers to ensure he is happy with the standard of produce and with the treatment of the animals. "We will never buy any produce from people that treat the animals inhumanely. With regard to pink veal, we only ever use rose veal which is more than six months old and weaned on mothers' milk as opposed to a milk powder supplement."

His chickens come from Jason Wise in Devon, a producer of traditional free-range chicken - the birds are housed in moveable wooden "arks" which can be easily moved to greener pastures as necessary. Elwy Valley lamb comes from family-run hill farms in North Wales.

While Aikens acknowledges the increased consumer interest in provenance of ingredients as something of a trend, he is keen to point out that it's something chefs have been passionate about for years.

"It's not about setting trends, it's just doing what you believe in," he says. "In 10 years, when customers are eating out all the time, the provenance stories will be a given and it won't be all the rage that it is now. The customer's dining experience will be elevated to a whole new level and they will expect it to be the norm to know where something comes from."

Watch Caterer's video interview with Tom Aikens on his new eco-friendly restaurant >>

Watch Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall call on industry to switch to free-range poultry >>

Roast loin of Logiealmond lamb and slow-cookedshoulder of mutton - By Andrew Fairlie

Ingredients
(Serves four)

For the lamb
160g trimmed lamb loin
Seasoning
40ml vegetable oil
25g unsalted butter
150g white bread (crusts removed)
50g flat-leaf parsley
15g tarragon leaves
1tsp Dijon mustard

For the mutton
1 x 2-21/2 kg boneless shoulder of mutton (trimmed of fat)
600g mirepoix (onion, carrot, celery, garlic, bouquet garni)
700ml red wine
3 litres brown lamb stock
2 large onions (finely diced and cooked in butter)
150ml vegetable oil
Seasoning
Egg and panko crumbs for coating

For the white onion confit
2 sliced white onions
1 bay leaf
60g unsalted butter
Seasoning
1tbs super-fine capers
Marjoram, to taste

Method
Season the loin with salt and pepper. Heat oil and butter and colour loin on all sides. Roast for five minutes in a very hot oven (220°C). Rest for 10 minutes.

Blitz the breadcrumbs and herbs together, then sieve. Brush the loin with mustard and coat with breadcrumbs. Grill to form a toasted crust. Carve into eight slices. Cut the mutton shoulder in 200g pieces. Heat 100ml vegetable oil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Sear and caramelise the meat. Remove the pieces.

Add the mirepoix to the pan. Cook until soft and colouring. Add the wine and boil, reduce by half. Add lamb stock, boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Cool. Add the mutton and steep in the fridge overnight.

Preheat oven to 90°C. Reheat meat to simmering point. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and slow-cook for 12 hours. Take the pot from the oven and leave to stand for two-and-a-half hours. Flake the meat. Discard mirepoix and reduce stock to 1 litre. Combine meat, fried onion and enough stock to bind. Season. Form a film-wrapped roulade (40 x 3cm) and chill. Cut into 5cm lengths and coat in egg and panko breadcrumbs. Fry until crisp.

For the white onion confit, melt the butter in a large, thick-bottomed pot and sweat the onions until the juices start to release. Stew slowly without colouring until soft. Blend one-third of the onions to a pureé and add back. Combine with capers, marjoram and seasoning. Keep hot.

Serve two slices of roast loin with the mutton on a little onion confit. Accompany with triangles of artichoke mixed with spinach and lamb jus.

Slow-roasted fillet of Scotch beef
Slow-roasted fillet of Scotch beef
Slow-roasted fillet of Scotch beef - by André Garrett

The beef is a cross between Aberdeen and Charolais.

Ingredients
(Serves four)

300g piece beef fillet
15ml oil or clarified butter
4 x 50g portions foie gras

For the sauce (makes 12-16 portions)
40g shallots, finely diced
40g carrots, finely diced
20g butter
Sprig thyme
3 peppercorns
1 bayleaf
1 bottle Madeira
500ml good veal jus
Sliced truffle (optional)

Method
Caramelise shallots and carrots in butter, add thyme, crushed peppercorns, bayleaf and Madeira and reduce by two-thirds. Add veal jus and cook until it coats the back of a spoon, pass through muslin and check for seasoning. Keep for service.

Caramelise beef as whole piece in hot oil or butter then cook whole at 59°C for 90 minutes. This should give you a good medium-rare beef. Sear the foie gras in a hot pan until browned on each side then drain on kitchen paper.

Reheat the sauce and infuse with the sliced truffle for flavour. Serve the beef with crushed charlotte potatoes, spinach, carrots and shimeji mushrooms.

Slow-roasted fillet of Scotch beef
Slow-roasted fillet of Scotch beef
Slow-roast shoulder of Elwy Valley lamb with onions and thyme, balsamic vinegar - by Tom Aikens

At Tom's Kitchen the lamb shoulder is served in a Pullivuyt casserole dish for two to share and comes with mashed potato or chunky chips.

Ingredients
(Serves eight)

1 shoulder of lamb, about 2.5kg
150ml olive oil
1 bunch fresh thyme
2 garlic bulbs, peeled, plus extra sliced cloves
20g sea salt
Black pepper
8 medium onions, peeled
250ml balsamic vinegar

Method
Marinate the lamb for a day in the olive oil with 6-8 sprigs thyme and some extra thinly sliced garlic. Turn it occasionally. Before you cook the lamb, leave it out of the fridge for a good hour or two so that the meat is at room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Remove the thyme and garlic, then season with 20g salt and 4-6 turns of freshly milled black pepper. Place the meat in a large casserole with the whole peeled onions. The onions can be drizzled with olive oil and seasoned as well. Put a little olive oil in the bottom of the pan, then put the casserole into the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until the lamb and onions have coloured.

Remove the casserole from the oven, then add about eight sprigs of thyme along with the garlic cloves. Reduce the oven temperature to 110°C, and return the meat to the oven. Cook for five hours with the lid on. Add the balsamic vinegar, and continue to cook for a further hour with the lid off.

Place the casserole on to a low heat to reduce any excess liquid. Baste the lamb with this during the reducing, along with the onions. Serve the soft meat cut in pieces with the onions, some of the jus, a few cloves of garlic and some mashed potato.

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