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article imageNYC restaurateurs find challenges in going local Special

By Cate Kustanczy     Oct 14, 2013 in Lifestyle
New York - Chefs and restaurateurs in New York City recently came together to discuss the advantages of sourcing local ingredients. While it's a movement gaining momentum, not all businesses can afford to get on board just yet.
On a recent sunny autumn day, the North Pavilion of Union Square hosted Rainforest Alliance founder Dan Katz, who moderated a discussion on sustainability relating to restaurant practices, with guests Galen Zamarra of Mas (farmhouse), Marco Moreira of Tocqueville, Larissa Raphael of Telepan and Karl Franz Williams of 67 Orange Street. Organized by Rainforest Alliance, a nonprofit organization committed to sustainable development, the event was part of Follow The Frog Week, a national campaign aiming to raise awareness around conservation practices.
Curious Saturday shoppers, toting cloth bags brimming with local produce, perched on bright green chairs and listened intently to the people behind some of New York’s top restaurants explain how they engage in sustainable practises.
Restaurant owner and mixologist Karl Franz Williams, who sources some of his menu items from Corbin Hill Farms just outside New York, is meticulous in training staff at his Harlem hotspot to educate clientele about what they're eating, where it came from, and why it matters. While Williams acknowledges the trendy side of the locavore movement, he believes the upside is people "leaving with more knowledge and more inspiration."
But the downside for many restaurateurs is price. Bobby Gonzales, owner of restaurant/bar La Flaca on the Lower East Side, is open to featuring local ingredients on his menu, but finds the costs daunting. "It depends on what they have to offer us," he explains, referring to local purveyors. "If it's something they're putting out there and it's ten times more expensive… well, I think anytime you do local sourcing it's great, especially if it's close. It's not traveling far, and you're supporting local businesses as well, which is always a good thing, but sometimes it's just too expensive."
Finding a happy balance between price and doing the right thing is the biggest challenge, something Gonzales and other restaurateurs are well aware of.
 We were in (New) Jersey the other day   Gonzales recalls   and there was a little store with a sign...
"We were in (New) Jersey the other day," Gonzales recalls, "and there was a little store with a sign that said, 'All the profits go to my kids.' In other words, 'If you're shopping with us, we're able to send them to school, to buy them clothes, to put meat on the table' -all the little things they're able to do as a small family. It makes you think, if you're spending money on a big corporation, they're spending it on their third home, but if you can help someone out, it feels ten times better.
Graham Waterston
Gonzales has featured seasonal items on its menu in the past, with chili relleno being a popular late summer feature this year (the big green chilies used in the dish are at their peak for only a limited amount of time every year) and using seasonal ingredients like watermelon and cucumber in its drinks. La Flaca recently started using organic steak as well, forcing a price change. "We're losing, but at the same time the quality is much better. A lot of comes down to cost and quality."
Quality isn't something consumers necessarily think about when they're in a hurry, however. Quick, easy convenience foods are often perceived as more affordable, particularly for those on a fixed or limited income. Williams worries about the idea of economics dictating health, that "where there's money you can be healthier. That's something that's important to me, to figure that out."
Telepan pastry chef Larissa Raphael concurred. “People need to know they can afford it,” she said plainly, referring to the price of fresh foods. “People can't just decide it's okay to spend whatever on an organic apple over a processed apple. Markets that have items at affordable prices would make a difference.”
 It s much easer to live and eat and be healthy when you have money   67 Orange Street s Karl Franz ...
"It's much easer to live and eat and be healthy when you have money," 67 Orange Street's Karl Franz Williams explains. "That's something we have to continue to work on, so that we don't have food deserts, so we have the education there, and we don't have to worry... so no matter how much you have, you can still be healthy and vibrant."
Kyli Singh
Williams hopes to make a difference through his work with both the Harlem Park to Park, a community improvement association, as well as Fortune Society, a charity supporting successful societal re-entry for prison inmates. Cultivating urban gardens is, he believes, an effective form of rehabilitation. “Having them work in sustainable farms, growing fresh vegetables, bringing green back to the neighborhood… it's a circle that not only provides for a healthier lifestyle, allows people to be in a good place.”
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