The foodservice marketplace is more diverse than ever before – from a local chipper now into its third generation of family ownership, right up to two Michelin starred restaurants, there’s a huge wealth of diversity in between. It’s getting more complex, and chefs are becoming more exact in their requirements.
“It’s not a case of having twenty boxes of red grapes and twenty boxes of green grapes, we might have to have five different varieties of each,” said Ronan Sullivan of Vernon Catering. “The customers we’re supplying are little bit more educated than they used to be and they know that if they’re putting together a certain dish, then they want to use a particular type of grape to best compliment the other ingredients.”
Knowledge is a key tool for suppliers these days. A restaurateur isn’t just looking for strawberries, they’re looking for certain varieties at certain times of the year and this is reflected in how Ronan and his team go about sourcing fresh produce year round.
“The area we find ourselves growing into is not just ‘can you source this product’, it’s ‘what’s the best strawberry we should use at this time of year?’. We’re not just bringing in a pallet of strawberries, we’re bringing in a certain variety at the right time of year.”
Even still, Vernon is often asked for unusual ingredients that they may never have heard of, nevermind stocked previously. “Recently we were asked to source fiddlehead ferns, but it’s not something that’s cultivated, it’s more foraged for,” explains Ronan.
[pull_quote_center]We went to the UK market, the went to the French market, the Dutch market, the Spanish market, just to see if anyone had heard of it or was cultivating it.[/pull_quote_center]
Baby iceberg, lemon verbena, Aleppo peppers, espelette peppers, monks’ beard, Vietnamese coriander, dozens of varieties of fresh and exotic fruit (increasingly popular amongst chefs who are emboldened to bring authentic Asian and Middle Eastern flavours to Ireland) and innumerable types of dried herbs and spices, are just some of the products Vernon Catering has received calls for since the start of the year alone. As demand for freshness has skyrocketed, so too has the diversity of requests.
Partly, it’s divergent. High end eateries are increasingly looking for locally sourced ingredients; a concern for provenance is paramount. Multinationals running weekly specials, ethnic restaurants, fast casuals focusing on certain cuisine from certain parts of the world, are fuelling the uptake on freshly imported exotics and seasonal goods that either can’t be found or will never grow in Ireland.
As it’s most simplistic level, it would be an insult to throw dried coriander on fresh tacos – why then should a chef be expected to use a dried or canned product, when in other parts of the world there are fresh alternatives available?
Ronan and his team never quite know where these requests might lead them. A recent example had them jumping from France to the UK in search of monks’ beard. “We found a woman in France, she has a farm north of Paris, and she’s been growing it for a while,” said Ronan. “Unfortunately the seeds she had for this year weren’t as good as the seeds she had previously gotten so she only has a small amount of the product. So we’ve had to source elsewhere, and we’ve come across UK micro monks’ beard.”
The Vernon Catering team has become adept at searching through international supply chains, looking for the freshest produce available to meet their clients’ needs while also tapping into local suppliers closer to home, working carefully with farmers and growers to ensure they have a consistent supply of exceptional quality local produce.
“We never just tell people ‘no we don’t stock what you’re looking for’ and leave them to it. We’re honest, we say we don’t stock it, but we then go and see if we can” explained Ronan. “We’re successful a lot more times than we’re not but I think the customer appreciates that you go that extra mile. It reinforces in their mind that they’ll give Vernon a ring, because we might be able to help them out.”
[quote_box_center]Vernon Catering is ready and waiting to meet your needs, no matter how specific they might be. For more information visit www.vernoncatering.ie.[/quote_box_center]