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Ask the Expert: Why Your Menu Should Feature Organic and Local Foods

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Ask the Expert: Why Your Menu Should Feature Organic and Local Foods

Three Sons Signature Cuisine

Chef Benjamin McCallum is the talented and award-winning Executive Chef and co-owner of Three Sons Signature Cuisine. Ben works to create the kind of events that reflect not only the personality and tastes of clients, but also the flare and talent of an elite chef. Classically trained in French cuisine, Chef Ben has also studied, perfected, and executed menus in nearly every cultural cuisine imaginable. Chef Ben is always striving to make food fun, delicious, and decadent, whether teaching at one of his Kitchen Window cooking classes or at a private cooking event.
With the long, lazy days of summer nearly behind us, it’s exciting to focus on autumn and all that it brings to the table. Soon it will be harvest time with crisp, juicy apples, savory pumpkins and squash, delicious wines and hot ciders. If you’re planning any kind of fall festivities, then you want to take advantage of the abundance of flavors that are available this time of year. Culinary expert, Chef Benjamin McCallum of Three Sons Signature Cuisine explains how using organic and local foods in your menu will make your meal tastier, more cost effective and more successful.

Q. Where should a planner begin if they want to create an organic menu for their event?

A. Start with the season, especially if you’re planning to incorporate organic. You can buy at your local farmer’s market of course, but don’t forget that you can also utilize local co-ops. I shop the Wedge Co-op and Seward Co-op … two of the best. When you shop at a co-op, you should talk to the manager about your needs, about seasonality and about what they carry. They can order in bulk for you, which saves you money. I’ll often ask what they’re currently ordering, then piggyback on that order to minimize delivery costs.

Q. Why is buying local so important?

A. First, both seasonal and local are important because of lowered or non-existent transportation costs. For products shipped across the country, transportation costs are typically passed on to the consumer. Secondly, with local foods, like tomatoes for example, you’re not worrying about when they were picked. A commercial organization will pick tomatoes when they’re still green, then store them in carbon dioxide rooms for ripening. By the time the tomato reaches the consumer, it’s been off the vine for three weeks. Granted, a locally-grown tomato doesn’t have as long a shelf life — maybe only three to five days — but it’s going to be juicier and tastier because it’s spent more time on the vine being ripened by the sun, the way it was meant to be. It’s just a better product overall.

Q. What does serving organic/local food communicate to an event attendee?

A. Since the foods are fresher and tastier, it’s telling the attendee that the quality is superior. Food purchased from local suppliers is just completely different. It is what it was intended to be.

Q. Are you seeing an increase in requests for organic menus from your clients?

A. There was a push for “organic” a few years ago, but now we hear more requests for “local, sustainable and seasonal.” In other words, foods grown in Minnesota. For us, during the winter months that means hardier foods — beans or brussels sprout — things that can be canned when they’re fresh.

Q. What is the most requested organic food?

A. Lately, we’re getting a lot of requests for organic proteins like beef and chicken. There’s been more media attention recently on the mistreatment of animals at some of these corporate farms, as well as the inclusion of hormones in meat. This leads us to question our suppliers about how they raise their animals, how they’re treated and whether or not they’ve been injected with hormones.

Q. What would you recommend for an organic menu this fall?

A. Minnesota Pork Producers have been producing some delicious pork this season, so I’d go with a pork meal accompanied by some harvest vegetables and some local starches, such as wild rice and apples.

Ask the Expert: Why Your Menu Should Feature Organic and Local Foods

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