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Organic Product sourcing - Catering

One of the most important jobs performed by any competent chef begins well before they enter the kitchen. Being able to identify and source the freshest, highest quality produce is arguably the most important skill a well-trained chef has. In fact, Id go so far as to say that it is the one skill that differentiates a great chef from a merely competent chef. When I'm looking to bring a new trainee into the restaurant, Im more interested in their ability to identify and select great produce than I am, at least initially, in their ability to cook. I can teach them to cook. And to a certain extent I can provide instruction on selecting great produce. But I honestly believe that the best chefs have additional sensory capacity and powers of observation that are beyond the reach of most people. And thats what enables great chefs to source the best produce.

Even though Ive just indicated that selecting amazing organic produce is something of an art that only the best chefs are capable of, fear not. There is also a fair bit of basic science involved. And fortunately, that can be taught, learned and applied. Let's look at some of the principles that you should use when sourcing organic produce.

Always choose seasonal produce - theres no point in buying organic strawberries that have travelled huge distances to get to you when organic berries are currently in season and are grown locally. It�s simple. Buy the organic berries. Theyll taste better, contain more vitamins and arrive on your plate in a fresher state. And chances are, the organic berries will be relatively less expensive than the strawberries, which is good news if youre managing a household budget. Before going shopping, take the time to understand the types of produce that are in season in your region. Be careful though. Many people mistakenly assume that what's on sale at their local chain store supermarket is also what's in season. This isnt always the case. Supermarket distribution chains permit bulk items to be shipped to counter-seasonal destinations with relative ease these days. So, ask around. Talk to your local organic green grocer. They�ll know exactly whats in season in your locale.

See it - fresh produce has an appearance that immediately identifies it as such. This applies as much to organic produce as it does to industrially farmed produce. And that isnt to say that organic produce should exhibit the uniform shape, color and texture of the artificially enhanced, chemically produced, industrial farmed versions that are routinely available. But it should still look fresh and magnificent. In fact, it should jump out at you and demand attention.

Color is an amazing thing. To the trained eye, subtle differences in color enable identification of optimal provide a strong signal as to the likely quality of any given item of produce. For example, I know the color I expect to see in asparagus when its absolutely perfect for a light steaming. You will too.

Touch it - Feel food. Touch it. By all means be careful not to bruise or damage it, but for gods-sake don't be afraid of picking it up either. Make sure you know what you're buying before you walk out the door. Too many people are reluctant to pick up a peach or a plum these days for fear of some over-zealous storekeeper berating them for doing so. Bugger them! Tell any grumpy storekeeper that won't let you handle their produce that I sent you; and that last time we checked it wasnt an offence to pick up an apple to determine whether or not it's ripe. In all honesty, if you�re shopping at a store that doesnt allow you to handle their produce, shop elsewhere.

Fortunately most organic retailers tend to permit, and even encourage, shoppers who wish to feel their produce before purchasing it. It's no coincidence that organic food tends to be stronger, firmer and retains its appearance longer than industrially farmed produce.

Fresh food has a feel and a texture that is different to food that is not. If you're someone who hasn't taken the time to pick up produce in the past, it's worthwhile spending some time before your next shopping expedition finding out what texture the produce you're purchasing should have. Admittedly, this is best done in the company of someone who knows how the produce should feel. But if you don't have access to someone with this knowledge, at least read about how the produce should feel. In time, and with practice, you'll come to understand the feel and texture you should be looking for in any particular item of produce.

Smell it - ripe produce has a different smell than produce that is past its best. It also has a different smell from produce that is juvenile and not ready for consumption. So don't fear performing a little sniff and whiff test.

Taste it - I know that when you're buying produce in small quantities for home use, it's not always possible to try before you buy. But when a shopkeeper provides sample produce for tasting, it's a pretty good indication that they're confident of its quality. In fact, I can't recall an instance of a storekeeper or marketeer offering me a sample of their produce without it being absolutely fresh and spot on. After all, you're unlikely to purchase any produce from them if the sample they provide is lousy. So, if sample produce is offered, try it.

It's also a good idea to frequent your local produce markets. Markets are competitive places. Every marketeer knows that the best way to secure a sale is to let people try their produce. If it tastes great, most people will buy what they've sampled. Markets are a good place to learn. They provide a great opportunity to ask questions of people close to the source of the food you and your family will eat.

There you go - always choose seasonal produce. And make sure that before purchasing any produce you see it, touch it, smell it and taste it. These aren't exactly revolutionary concepts. But they are the basic principles for identifying and sourcing the finest quality organic ingredients. If you start with the freshest, locally sourced organic produce, you're well on your way to creating fantastic food that will delight and inspire your family and friends

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