The importance of using Irish produce in any foodservice operation can’t be overstated. Diners look for supplier information on menus, and often ask about provenance. Many restaurants make a point of only stocking their fruit, veg and meats from nearby farms. It’s vital therefore that suppliers respond to this and ensure they have strong roots with nearby farmers and producers, while also managing to keep quality and availability as high as possible.
It’s a tall order, but one that Vernon Catering is used to and one they’ve expanded on in recent years in partnership Castleruddery Farm, situated close to Donard in Wicklow. “This is our second season working with Castleruddery Farm, so this is Irish produce from a local farm,” said Ronan Sullivan of Vernon Catering. “I’m quite excited about this connection, we’ve planned out this year quite a bit. We sat down with them and talked about what we wanted, the different leaves and so on that we want to use.”
For fruit & veg suppliers like Vernon Catering, it’s vital that they maintain good relations with their producers and farmers in order to get the best produce that satisfies the ever-changing demands of chefs and, indeed, diners.
“We have long relations with a lot of north county Dublin farms, so there’s that continued relationship that helps us a lot. It’s given us an ability to say to chefs, this is what we have in terms of real Irish produce and we can deliver it within 48 hours from the farm. It’s super fresh, super local, it meets customers’ demands. It’s great to have that kind of partnership,” said Ronan.
With the summer season now in full swing, Vernon Catering is stocking some of the freshest local vegetables and berries on the market. Already they’ve noticed changes compared to last year in terms of demand – sales of wild garlic and nettles are up, for example. All going well, later this year will see a supply of golden raspberries become available, as well as gherkins – both of which are firsts for the company.
“We’re trying again for golden raspberries – last year it didn’t really work out, our grower produced some berries but not to the volume we needed, so we’re trying again with a different variety this year” said Ronan.
[pull_quote_center]We’ll have a lot of Irish berries – raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and we’ll have them all summer long.[/pull_quote_center]
For producers, deciding to plant a new crop isn’t an overnight decision. Concerns such as what varieties of seeds to use, the impact the plant will have on the soil, difficulty of harvesting and potential crop failure are all factors that must be considered. “Sometimes,” explains Ronan, “You could be using a certain seed then they stop supplying it. So it’s always an ongoing development. It’s a bit of innovation, a bit of talking to people, a bit of being on the ground talking people.”
Ronan is predicting increased demand this year for, amongst other produce, baby potatoes, baby veg (e.g. carrots, parsnips and turnips – all of which they will be stocking), and Irish cherries. “With the weather we currently have we should have Irish cherries for sale by the start of June and that’s always a bit of a novelty every year – there aren’t many cherry growers in Ireland,” explained Ronan. “It’s great to have them at the very start of the European cherry season.”
Another concern often cited by chefs is the production methods used in growing the crops. Ronan takes cherries as an example of the care Vernon’s producers use when farming “A lot of the practices our cherry growers use would be on the same level as organic certifications. The growers have little spiders put on the plants to eat the flies, for example. Clever ideas like that.”
[pull_quote_center]They don’t spray insecticides. The plants are kept indoors or in polytunnels, and they use bees to pollinate the flowers.[/pull_quote_center]
Vernon Catering goes to great lengths to ensure what it sells is the best available, and wants to make sure restaurateurs, chefs and diners know about it. “It’s about educating people about what we have and when we have it. Artichokes from Italy for example, their season would be coming to an end by late May. They’re available all year but only really in season earlier in the year, but in Ireland they’d be coming into season from May onwards,” said Ronan.
“So it’s about educating people and pushing the message out there.”
[quote_box_center]For more information on Vernon Catering, visit www.vernoncatering.ie.[/quote_box_center]