For this installment of our Noasobi Intention Series, we're partnering with Chef Alex Kim to discuss the benefits of local and seasonal ingredient sourcing. As the executive chef of Snow Peak's forthcoming restaurant, Takibi in Portland, Oregon, Chef Alex has a wealth of knowledge surrounding the importance of fresh, seasonal produce. Read his thoughts and perspectives below.
Describe the approach to sourcing at Takibi and how this impacts the menu.
At Takibi we source produce from local and organic farms nearby, including Groundwork in Junction City, Our Table Farm in Sherwood, Wild Roots in Springdale, and other small to mid-sized local growers. We are fortunate to have several specialty products available to us in the Pacific Northwest, such as Oregon Citrus and Oregon Coast Wasabi.
My approach to the menu at Takibi begins with each ingredient. I like to see the vegetables up close at the farmer's market to determine where it is in the season; in its beginning, its prime, or its transition out – there's a constant ebb and flow. Every product's place in the season is easier understood when you surround yourself with the products at the farmer's market throughout the year. Seeing the products every week at the stands enables you to catch a brilliant color and to see the shape and quality of a vegetable in its prime state.
The process of discovery in person at the market certainly inspires additions to the menu or parts of dishes in unexpected ways - making the creative process (literally) more organic. Simply said, the products we use in our menu shift in the same way the products themselves shift through the seasons.
Our meats are sourced from small ranchers all around Oregon, which are selected by our purveyor Revel Meat Co. based in Canby. Because our cuts come from whole animals, we are conscious of which part of the animal we are using and what quantity, which impacts our menu. The cuts we select to be used at a restaurant scale need to be sustainable, as a whole animal is limited to what it can provide, and our products come from small ranchers doing quality work. One can imagine just how much more delicious any cut of meat we receive is compared to a commodity beef or pork. However, conscientiousness is certainly the price of flavor. We are always intentional with our meats, both to do the product's quality justice and to ensure sustainable production on the rancher's end, in the short term and longterm.
How does locally sourced food further sustainability?
By sourcing locally, you are getting as close to the source as possible; the more direct, the better. Commodity vegetables purchased at grocery stores use more energy and resources due to shipping and shelf-life requirements. Some fruits like apples are refrigerated for a full year at commercial facilities to supply stores with products that aren't naturally available at other times of the year. Despite being more efficient economically for the farmer, large-scale monoculture farming requires a significant number of pesticides, degrading the soil while requiring more water and decreasing biodiversity.
Local farms with a diversity of crops operating under organic principles produce healthy vegetables, the absence of harmful chemicals, and better soil to ensure generations of growth with no impact on the environment or the sustainability of the operation. Many farms now use limited or no tillage methods to cultivate healthy soils with microorganisms and nutrients intact, preventing depletion. Farms should be able to produce beautiful and lively vegetables for generations without degrading their land. While this is still an ongoing evolution, sourcing from organic and local growers is the best way to support sustainability.
Vegetables don't need to come strictly from rural farms. Early in my career, I had an amazing opportunity to spend a week at the Brooklyn Grange, a 5.6-acre organic urban rooftop farm in New York City, and it was remarkable. It was atop a large multi-use commercial building, but it didn't even feel like you were in the city at all. It's in the middle of NYC and was providing farm-fresh vegetables to its locality. I feel this is the future. Urban farming and vertical agriculture are disruptive and amazing solutions to make cities more sustainable by producing food that is typically delivered from rural areas.
Many social problems originate from food, and where/how we supply food in different environments has an impact. Environmentally, purchasing products grown nearby mitigates the excess energy required to ship from farms to cities. We can curb accessibility barriers to healthy and delicious vegetables in dense urban areas by producing vegetables within the city. I feel that eventually, this can make affordability a non-issue. Right now, the biggest thing we can do as restaurants and individuals is to purchase consciously and to support local producers.
What advice would you give people starting to source locally for their own kitchens?
First of all, don't make it an overwhelming chore! I would highly encourage going to your local or most active farmer's market once a week, all year. I recommend going early. If you want the best vegetables, there's a big difference between arriving at the opening compared to getting there even a few hours later.
Establishing this simple habit would make everything else pretty easy. Even if you don't have anything planned, it's good to see what is around and to be inspired to make something at home a bit spontaneously. New ideas for meals will begin to flow and collect over time. You will become more familiar with the farms and develop great relationships. Keep in mind that local and organic food is a spectrum to an individual's taste just like anything else. Avoid overwhelm by developing a set of preferences for yourself or your household, just as one would for a restaurant menu. In my opinion, an added focus and a solid set of likes and dislikes can hone your process. In the end, it should be a simple, fun weekly routine you, and perhaps your entire family, happily anticipate.
Stay up-to-date on opening details for Snow Peak's restaurant Takibi by following @takibipdx on Instagram or by visiting www.takibipdx.com.