To my surprise I am often asked if I go down to the food markets in the morning to buy the kitchen’s produce for the day’s business. When they ask me I’m sure they have visions of me strolling through a French style street market in the soft but bright glow of early morning sunlight with a flat wicker basket over my arm exchanging pleasantries with Pierre the butcher and Jacques the fishmonger: so tell me monsieur, what blessings has Mother Nature delivered you from the ocean this fine morning? Loup de mer? Wonderful, I shall create a wonderful special on the menu this very lunchtime.
I am sure that there are some small, stand-alone restaurants where something similar to this may happen, but this rose tinted illusion is the creation of T.V. chefs with heavy ladles of artistic licence for dramatic effect…
The truth, as I’m sure you can imagine, is rather different. With an average weekly food spend of more than £10K; I would indeed need a lot of time and a huge wicker basket to bring home the proverbial banqueting bacon.
For me, one of the best features of One Great George Street is that as a consequence of being an independent venue I have complete control over which suppliers I choose to use. There are some catering venues, and in particular multinational chains, that have company-wide nominated suppliers that the chef has to use, whether they want to or not. I have friends that have left positions rather than being forced to serve what they consider to be inferior produce.
Here at One Great George Street we also have a nominated supplier list, but one that is nominated by me. Obviously cost is an important consideration when taking on a new company, but more importantly it is the quality of their produce. Over the years we have tended to use smaller companies because in general they look after their customers with more care and we like to know the name and the face of our contact in these companies.
For instance one of my butchers is made up of just 5 or 6 employees. They have purposely restricted their business to the local area and because they are so few they all share in the buying, cutting and delivering of the meat. The beauty for me is the fact that not only is their quality fantastic, but every day I have a proper butcher delivering to my door, not just a driver. This way I can find out what’s good to buy or essential to avoid when writing menus and because butchers are the worst gossips in the world I can keep my ear to the ground with what’s happening around town that you can’t read in the trade press. Believe me, some of it you would not believe!
Similarly my dry stores and frozen food company is by industry standards one of the smaller players, but for me it is everything I am looking for in a supplier. Not only are they consummately professional every time we deal with them but they also do a lot of work with local farms and businesses to promote the local economy and provide chefs with much needed provenance. There are cheaper suppliers out there but compromising on quality is the first step on a very slippery slope.
Our suppliers are also aware that no one is fire proof and they are all only as good as their last delivery. We recently had a company who for one reason or another began to really struggle with product quality and in the end we had to remove them from our supplier list. It was sad because we had worked with them for many years but as I said, we will not compromise on quality for our customers.