Chefs seek unique produce unlike grocery store fare

LEDUC, Alta. —Vegetables are king as far as chef Ben Staley is concerned.

For chef Jasmin Kobajica, it’s meat that wears the crown.

“Vegetables deserve respect,” Staley said during an Alberta Agriculture Explore Local event designed to help farmers get their food into restaurants.

“The humble carrot should be given the same respect as a piece of beef.”

Meals are based on the price of meat when Kobajica is pricing the food at his Fort Edmonton Park location. The vegetable and potato are not part of the equation.

“I don’t do twigs on a rock,” Kobajica said about restaurant fads for odd and unusual food.

It’s an example of the differences in chefs and restaurants and a realization that farmers need to do a bit of research about the restaurant before they make their pitch, said Debra Krause, who supplies vegetables to Edmonton restaurants.

Krause said farmers who are pitching their produce to a chef should eat in the restaurant near the end of the day when chefs have a few minutes to come to the table to chat.

Chefs are active on social media searching for farmers willing to supply their local food, which means farmers also need to be active in social media.

Staley, who runs a restaurant kitchen near Edmonton, began buying vegetables from Krause after discovering her Versa Gardens website.

“Be active on Twitter and Instagram,” said Krause.

Staley said what he wants most from farmers is quality of product.

“I expect produce to be treated with the most respect as possible,” he said.

“I want people who are passionate about produce like me.”

Staley is also looking for originality. He doesn’t want the same cut of pork as other restaurants or the same carrots that consumers can find in the grocery store.

“I want interesting variety. I want the different stuff. Grow produce on an experimental plot and we will take that stuff,” he said.

European chefs are asking for vintage carrots that have been left in the ground for a year to age and have a rich, meaty texture.

“Ingredients like that are used in the best restaurants in the world.”

He also looks for cleanliness. He doesn’t mind buying dirty potatoes but expects them to be at a lower cost.

“I expect the price to be fair to chef and producer.”

Staley recommended bringing samples of meat and vegetables to the chef to demonstrate the quality of produce the chef can expect.

He said inviting chefs to farms helps solidify the relationship.

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