Some of the major pioneer work in traceability has been and is being performed by top chefs. There are a number of celebrity chefs who have for some years specialized in local cuisine and knowing exactly where their ingredients come from, including California’s Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck and Suzanne Goin; New York’s Dan Barber; Chicago’s Rick Bayless; and Atlanta’s Kevin Gillespie.

TRACE restaurant in Austin—part of the W Hotel, Austin—was founded on the principle of serving local cuisine, the origin of which could be traced (hence the name). TRACE’s mission statement reads: “Trace is committed to creating an enriching and thoughtful culinary experience by fusing the vibrant, local personality with our commitment to integrity and socially responsible food. Our high-quality, conscious cuisine is prepared from locally foraged and sourced, sustainable ingredients—or obtained through national partners with well-known sustainable practices. We hope you’ll enjoy your meal, which can be confidently traced back to its natural origins.”

Interestingly, the first person hired for the restaurant was an experienced local food “forager” who would be responsible for providing the restaurant with high-quality locally sourced ingredients. “When I heard that the restaurant was being planned, I contacted Starwood, the parent company, and told them that if they were going to do this concept, they needed someone like me,” Valerie Broussard, TRACE food and beverage buyer and forager, told Organic Connections. “I was already familiar with the farmers, and I had built these relationships and lived that lifestyle myself personally, anyway. I like to shop at the farmers’ markets and there are a lot of things in my refrigerator that people outside of this area might not even recognize. They’re not mass-produced, mass-marketed types of products, and I actually buy much of my own food from people who made it themselves. That’s what I wanted to help this restaurant achieve. For this kind of concept it takes a little more time, and it’s an involved process to dig deeper than most chefs have time for. I’m sort of an extension of the chef in that way.”

The company then sought out and found a chef de cuisine who was passionate about locally sourced food and hired Chef Paul Hargrove, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, who had already made a considerable name for himself as the executive sous-chef at Café Boulud Palm Beach and at the James Beard Award-winning restaurant Daniel in New York.

“My mentality comes from the need for a better relationship between the world that I’m in as a chef and the world that farmers are in,” Hargrove told Organic Connections. “Trying to find that is what’s most important to me. I jumped on the concept of TRACE, because those are things that I’m really passionate about.”

Within such a concept, keeping a restaurant up and running day to day creates, to say the least, a fast-paced environment. Hence the work between Paul and Valerie must, of necessity, be hand in glove.

“The chef develops his menus based on what we know will be plentiful,
Broussard said. “For example, in the last few weeks I’ve been e-mailing farmers and asking, ‘What are you putting in the ground now?’ or, ‘What seeds are you starting, so we know what we can expect 60 days from now?’ Then we can forecast accordingly and the chef can develop the menu based on that.”

“Valerie will call around to farmers she knows,” Hargrove explained. “She puts together a spreadsheet for me, showing me the availability from them for the week. When she’s out visiting farmers’ markets, she shoots me back messages with pictures, and I’ll instruct her to buy ‘2 pounds of that’ or ‘5 pounds of this.’”

To the future of food 

Hargrove is happy to see the growing trend among chefs to espouse locally and sustainably grown—and traceable—ingredients. “I think it’s the responsibility of all of us as chefs,” said Hargrove. “Especially if you are a celebrity chef and you care about quality ingredients, quality products, it’s your duty and responsibility to spread that message and spread that word. I do here. And I’m glad to see that chefs have gone from being people that farmers hated to work with to people that farmers are starting to like to work with.”

“I think that if we don’t support what we have now, we won’t continue to grow in the right direction,” Broussard concluded. “There are a lot of different reasons for buying locally, and one of them is supporting the economy in which you live. I also think that will allow more variety, and it makes it possible for people to do things on a smaller scale than if they are forced to go big and industrial.”