As part of the Celebrate Local campaign, Enda spoke to Food Made Good about how building and investing in a network of local farms ensures that we have fresh produce, every day:
“Local sourcing is absolutely fundamental to our whole business. We’re here to showcase what these amazing farmers, fishermen and growers do. Through working together and building our relationships over years we’ve come to know each other and our needs so well. I guess we’ve grown up together as business people. As a result, I regard all my suppliers as being as fundamental to my business as anything else – as much as bricks in the restaurant walls.
I think this way of working has always been a part of me. I grew up in a family business that grew veg, kept pigs and had a corner shop, so I guess that is where my understanding of the supplier side of things comes from; of the time it takes to produce something, of horticulture, of supply and demand.
Then when I worked for a restaurant called Nimmo’s here in Galway, producers would come to the door and try and sell us stuff. It could be anything, a load of mushrooms or a hobby farmer with some meat or maybe someone with a glut of a seasonal fruit. We’d always find a use for them. I’m still working with some of those people now, here at Loam.
Go local and take control
I just don’t think I know any other way of working. For me, it’s partly about control. I’ve always used lots of small suppliers but used to supplement them with wholesale produce from overseas. Then that volcano in Iceland erupted in 2010 and we were cut off for two weeks wondering what they hell we were going to do with no imported veg from Europe. That just made me re-evaluate and look even closer to home.
I started thinking even more about what people are growing, how and why they grow it. Sometimes they’ll change what they grow to try and match what they think their customers want – and that’s when they need a commitment from people like me. That kind of agreement between farmer and buyer is essential so if they agree to grow something you agree to take all of it. It’s a different kind of a mind-set but it makes so much more sense that ordering something from someone you’ve never met.
All of our fruit and veg comes from within about 20 miles except for lemons. We get 80% of our veg from a local grower called Leaf and Roots. I talk with Fergal there every week and we meet up regularly throughout the year to talk about what he’s going to plant, what’ll work and what won’t. It’s a really rewarding way of working.
Some chefs might say that using only local produce limits what they can do. Personally, I need to limit the number of ingredients available to me or I get confused. Classical French cuisine was based around the colonies, using products that came from the other side of the world. That doesn’t seem right to me and I want to promote Irish cuisine. That means limiting the amount of ingredients but not the variety. Just think of all the different varieties of cabbage!
Preserving the local larder – literally!
I’ve set these parameters myself. If I can’t find the ingredient locally to suit my standards then it’s up to me to come up with alternatives. It means that our menu is really fluid and we have to be creative and think long term, particularly in the winter months. I’m passionate about preserving things. That way we can continue to use locally grown things all year round.
Local sourcing – how to make friends and influence people
For our pork, lamb and beef I use a farm just up the road run by two brothers. I’ve been working with them for over ten years and in that time their meat has got better and better and they’ve grown as a business. We hang out together and they’ve helped me as much as I’ve helped them. That’s what it’s all about.
Now you’d think that being in a seaside city, we’d be sourcing the most amazing local seafood. In fact, it’s not that simple, because there really isn’t that good a variety that’s caught in a sensible way. Sure Galway is a fishermen’s town but there’s tradition hanging over them and it takes a lot to get them to change their ways. We are lucky to work with a wonderful supplier, Gannet Fish, who I’ve known for years now. They send us a list in the evening with information about the catch, the boat that’s caught it and the fishing method. That transparency is really important to me. At the moment we’re using line caught squid and mackerel from Irish waters. But sometimes it can be a struggle to find good quality seafood caught locally and sustainably.
Inspiring the next generation of chefs
I think it’s really important for my team to get out and visit the producers regularly too. That we way, we keep in close touch with them and their product. Every summer we take on two stagieres. As part of their experience we arrange for them to spend time out on the farm taking part in the harvest and going to market. It’s part of the reason why people come to work here.
You just can’t beat that personal interaction and everyone who supplies us delivers to us personally, they come into the kitchen, we have a taste of something and have a chat. It’s easy to forget that this doesn’t happen everywhere. We can’t build a community but we can support it. We wouldn’t be here without them. They want to make the best possible product and it’s up to us to showcase that as best we can. For me it is so much more than an exchange of money. I get a better product and a better community to live in.
I don’t think we exactly use local sourcing as a marketing technique to get people in the door, but we do highlight the producers. For me, the most important thing is that people come here, enjoy their meal and not because it’s a novelty.