<div id="fb-root"></div>
<script async defer crossorigin="anonymous" src="https://connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&version=v17.0&appId=1360880647827568&autoLogAppEvents=1" nonce="nOICdQjC"></script>

Note to Chefs and Restaurant Owners: If It Says Local, Be Prepared to Prove It

Written By Scott Joseph On April 15, 2016

Tampa Bay Times page

Earlier this week, the Tampa Bay Times published an article by its food critic, Laura Reiley, titled Farm to Fable: At Tampa Bay Farm-to-Table Restaurants, You’re Being Lied To.

It’s a stellar piece of investigative reporting, the sort of watchdog journalism that proves why newspapers are still relevant. Reiley is sure to garner many awards for the article, the first in a series, including, if there’s any justice, a Pulitzer.

If you’re in the restaurant business, I imagine you’ve already read the piece. If you just like dining out — and I’m guessing that’s why you’re here — you should read it too. If you haven’t, click on the title above. It’s worth your time. Then come back here because I want to discuss it.

What Reiley has detailed is not particular to Tampa restaurants. It goes on everywhere, including right here in Central Florida. Restaurant writers just haven’t called any of the restaurants out.

I’m including myself among the guilty critics.

Farm to table has become such an omnipresent buzzphrase that we’ve turned a deaf ear to it. Before that was what every restaurant in town was claiming, “market inspired” was the term that was emblazoned across menus. It was supposed to conjure an image of the chef wandering through an early morning farmers market gathering produce for the as-yet-unwritten evening’s menu. What a load of bull. More often than not the “market” was the website for Sysco or Cheney Brothers or any of the other suppliers that restaurants source from.

As I’ve pointed out before, any restaurant can claim to be “farm to table.” Even the stuff on the menu boards of any fast food burger chain originated at a farm. What matters is the distance between the farm and the proverbial table and the sometimes horrible things that happens to the food on the journey.

But Reiley’s article didn’t just call out restaurants for questionable semantics. She delved into the specific claims of menu descriptions and chalkboard specials that named local farms and ranchers, often finding no existing relationship. I wasn’t surprised. I’ve commented several times to my dining companions that if half of the restaurants claiming to use the eggs of a particular Lake County farmer were actually getting their eggs from there, the chicken coops would extend to Gainesville.

But I’ve never called the chef out on the claim, and I never dialed the supplier to verify it, either.

That ends today.

From now on, if a restaurant makes a vague claim that its food is locally sourced the chef, manager and serving staff better be prepared to say exactly where. And if they come up with a name, or if one is readily listed on the menu or written on the wall, you can expect that I will follow up with a call to the purveyor. I’m also not above looking through your Dumpster for cartons that contained “Gulf shrimp” with Vietnam stamped on the side.

And I’m calling on my fellow critics and food writers to be as questioning and discerning.

There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with sourcing food from farther away. One very notable fine dining Central Florida restaurant at one time made a point of promoting its “global” cuisine. Others will argue that point, and there’s something to be said for carbon footprint, fair trade issues and the sustainability of natural resources, including those collected from oceans. But what matters most to me is the honesty or integrity of the food.

I don’t have the resources to send fish samples to a lab for DNA testing. Heck, few newspapers today can afford to do that, either.

But many thanks to the Tampa Bay Times for dedicating the considerable resources for this impressive piece of journalism.

We hope you find our reviews and news articles useful and entertaining. It has always been our goal to assist you in making informed decisions when spending your dining dollars. If we’ve helped you in any way, please consider making a contribution to help us continue our journalism. Thank you.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
<div class="fb-comments" data-href="<?php the_permalink() ?>" data-width="100%" data-numposts="5"></div>
Scott's Newsletter