Is Local Sourcing Driving Parochial Menu Choices?

I have been such an advocate of local sourcing that Northumberland Tourism asked me to speak on the merits of local sourcing at the Berwick Food Festival last year.  I was addressing fellow caterers and business owners in the hospitality industry and talked about how local sourcing can install pride into your workforce,  gives customers a sense of traceability and helps enhance menus.  I could spend the next ten minutes exulting the many other ways in which it can help a business and I would not be able to leave out the fact that there is a political agenda afoot too.  Every form you fill in for the Guides asks you about the percentage of your food that is locally sourced.  Couple that with the annual wine and food awards from various publications and there has been a steady onslaught of pressure to locally source for a few years now.  It makes us laugh really as my late father was one of the pioneers of ‘from gate to plate’ sourcing when he started sourcing livestock from farmers and insisted on methods of butchery back in the late eighties, so when the AA ask how much local sourcing do you do it’s hard not to think, ‘been there, done that!’

What I’m particularly concerned about is that all this driving for local sourcing and seasonally available produce is making a host of menus out there all rather similar and all a bit boring.   Have you ever been to France, I’d say Burgundy in particular? All the menus, from restaurant to bistro to cafe bar, have a decidedly ‘local sameness’ to them. Don’t get me wrong, I love Burgundy and the food there, but after a week or two I am decidedly bored by the lack of choice.  The French used to, and still do really, think that the English can’t cook, and on a domestic level I’d agree with them. However the French are so fiercely regional that even their knowledge of wine will often only stretch to their own region. Our restaurants (I include good pubs in this) are far more cosmopolitan taking influences from Italy, France, India, China, Thailand, the list goes on and on.

Indeed when the Angel achieved the heady heights of glory under the leadership of Denis Watkins, the menu was very much influenced by Italy and France and we would describe the style of cooking as Anglo-French.  Now we describe the cooking as Modern British and I have to say, I’m a little bored.

Am I just spoilt by too many lovely Mediterranean holidays? Let me know what you think.  We will be sending out a questionnaire to our email subscribers or post a comment below.

Pascal Watkins

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