About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008
Preserving the Bottom-Line
There were a couple of articles in Saturday's The Age newspaper alerting the good people of Melbourne that we are in for some petrol style price hikes in the restaurant industry, due mostly to the rising cost of raw ingredients, which, according to Daniella Miletic, have risen well beyond the inflation rate over the past five years.

John Lethlean's sobering news is that restaurateurs concerned about menu price increases frightening away customers, are instead turning to their wine lists to add in the the extra cost of buying in food. But it would seem that won't stop the $30-$40 main course soon becoming $40-$50.

Curiously, restaurateur Matteo Pignatelli is reported to have taken tomatoes and asparagus off his menu in an effort to keep costs down. It's curious because both these vegetables are now out of season here and that at least a part of their soaring prices is due to their having to be shipped in from somewhere else, far, far away - there is always a premium attached to having fresh fruits and vegetables available out of season; we have to pay the cost of refrigeration, transport and storage, as well as a bit extra just to have that sweet cherry in the middle of winter.

It's good news for farmers though, as they get to send excess production to other areas and countries, helping them both ways. It reduces excess production flooding the local market at harvest time, thus stabilising prices in an Adam Smith moment, as well as having other markets available to sell to, which are prepared to pay a premium for out of season product.

But for consumers it's a different story. This evening out of market forces means that at the height of the season for particular fruits and vegetables, the price won't fall as far as it used to, which in older times meant one thing, preserving. Why does Mr Pignatelli have to take tomatoes off his menu? George Biron at Sunnybrae Restaurant certainly doesn't have to, he's preserved tomatoes three different ways and will have the pleasure of his foresight keeping him good company as the weather turns bleak and cold, not having to fork out a fortune for out-of-season produce; nor were tomatoes the only things he's put away.

It would seem though that Mr Biron is in the minority, for in having fresh fruit and vegetables available all year round, many chefs have in fact lost touch with the seasons and are now having to confront the bottom-line reality of the situation. But why are so few chefs using preserved foods when they are so much cheaper? It's not that we despise preserved foods, in fact, we have come to really appreciate some preserved things just for themselves, salt cod, tinned anchovies, the flavour of smoke, jams and conserves, to name a few.

Perhaps the answer lies with the consumer, you and me. Do we really have to have a fresh peach that has been flown several thousand kilometres, when we can simply open a jar of fruit that was grown in our own backyard? Preserved doesn't mean inferior, preserved fruit and vegetables have different qualities, that's all. Nor is preserving hokey, these days, as always, it's the smart thing to do.
  posted at 9:33 am

At 11:24 pm, Anonymous Duncan | Syrup&Tang said...

Ah Neil, you beat me to it -- I was going to write about the incongruity of Matteo Pignatelli's comment. Distinctly odd that an asparagus would still be on the menu in April. Perhaps there was some editorial focusing on that, or he's just being silly...

At 8:16 am, Blogger neil said...

I don't think Matteo was being silly, perhaps disingenuous. If you look at the accompanying photo for Daniella Miletic's article, amongst all the boxes of vegetables is one full of zucchini blossoms...Melbourne is over half way through autumn, one can only imagine how costly these were.

At 6:27 am, Blogger gigi said...

Excellent thought. Using local products decreases the global footprint, as everyone is so fond of saying now. I think we have been taught in recent times that preserved does mean inferior; maybe it's time for chefs to take the lead in encouraging us to remember otherwise.

At 9:38 am, Blogger Lucy said...

Yes, 'preserving' and 'preservatives' are unfortunate in that they share basic linguistic ties. Couldn't be further from one another in reality. Preservatives I actively avoid like the plague...

But the art of preserving is incredibly important - cooking without tinned tomatoes is unthinkable. Time we all got back in touch with the seasons, methinks.

Nice post, Neil and thank you for the link.

At 8:19 pm, Blogger t h e - g o b b l e r said...

Great post Neil.
The sad fact is that many restaurants are about the 'now' & preserving in any form is about 'tomorrow'. Many food businesses are about short term gain so they will never see the benefit of this sensible & wholistic approach to their food.
Adding to this is that despite the media attention, the art of preserving is simply not a skill or passion that many chefs have nor care about.
I think the comment from the Matteos owner highlighted the almost absurd dissconnect that many people in restaurants have to their primary produce.
It often leaves me scratching my head?!

At 11:12 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi gigi, good point, perhaps chef's ought to get on board.

Hi lucy, yeah, those two words are so similar, yet so different, perhaps that's what's stopping the public from demanding greater seasonality from chefs, a nagging feeling about preserves.

Hi gobbler, it's definitely the right way to go, but you're right, there is now a huge disconnect. I was smiling wryly to myself as Coles was advertising Queensland broccoli this week, seasonality is dead as far as supermarkets are concerned.


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