Sunday, 30 August 2009

Part 2 Lantanalicious: The three good food questions

This is the second in a series of three posts in which we* try to share some of the information that has been gathered as a part of the research to establish Lantana.

In this post, Shelagh answers three questions regarding sourcing 'good' food for Lantana. The idea is that by asking three questions in a repeatable format we can ask others the same questions and so build up a set of answers that can be compared and contrasted. Hopefully this information will be of use to others attempting to set up independent food businesses.

1. What is your good food philosophy?

Shelagh pointed out that there are a number of very good reasons for embracing a 'good food' approach to running a cafe; for the customers, for your conscience, for the planet. But there are so many variables that, if you're going to consistently adhere to an approach, you actually need an underlying philosophy that can guide you through the myriad suppliers, environmental considerations and customer demands.

Shelagh's main concern is to provide food which tastes as delicious as it possibly can. For her this means sourcing food which is in season and, depending on the particular ingredient, free range, and organic. Her secondary concern is the general ethics surrounding the production and procurement of the food. This then demands decisions to be made. For example, should she use organic produce if that also means high food miles or should she prefer the local but non organic produce?

The end result is that Shelagh tends to favour local, fair trade, free range and high welfare produce and is less concerned with whether it is organic, or certified 'organic'. Having said that, for certain items such as milk, Shelagh insists on organic because she believes it tastes so much better than non-organic.

London Dairies doing the morning milk run with their electric van.
2. What has informed that philosophy?

Shelagh joined the London Food Link's Ethical Eats group and through them went to some talks, met like minded operators and actually met some primary producers including farmers, bakers and butchers.

Some of the members of the Ethical Eats group on a farm visit
In meeting these producers and suppliers Shelagh got to see exactly how they work, the quality of their produce and their methods of production. She also got an understanding of their business values and was then able to make decisions about using specific suppliers. For instance, she chose a butcher who sources meat from small farmers who practice traditional, high welfare farming methods. While the animals are organically fed and naturally reared, the meat is not always certified ‘organic’ as many small producers are not able to meet the high costs and standards involved in the organic certification process. Some of the compromises the farmers have to make may disqualify their meat from being labeled organic, however, it doesn't compromise the quality of the product as far as Shelagh is concerned.

3. Why do you follow that philosophy?

The aim of Lantana is to differentiate on quality. Shelagh believes that using local, seasonal, naturally reared and free range produce results in better tasting and more interesting food in that you have to be inventive, working with what ingredients are in season. Also, as a small independent business owner herself, she wants to support other small specialist businesses who share the same values, are passionate about their product and give a personalised service.

Next week we're going to take a look at some of the links that Shelagh recorded as apart of her research and that have been collected on the Lantana delicious bookmarks page.

*This post is written by Leo Ryan who works as a digital planner, helping businesses to optimise their use of social media technologies.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Part 1 Lantanalicious: Its nice to share

Shelagh has asked me* to write a guest blog on something that interests me and that will be of interest to you, her readers. So I'm going to attempt a small experiment to do with explicit and implicit data. No wait...bear with me; food data.

In the wake of all of the financial and environment shenanigans of the recent past we have seen the development of a number of innovations in information transparency. I'm particularly interested in the development of XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language) which essentially allows for the easy extraction of vital financial information from enormous and dense financial documents by 'tagging' key pieces of data. If you're still awake and interested in reading more; there's a very tidy overview here.

If the XBRL tags were applied universally to all financial documents, say all SEC filings, then anyone would be able to search across all of the annual reports of every listed company for a specific piece of information. So the process of tracking down quite detailed and specific information from thousands of companies buried deep inside complex documents becomes as simple as using Google search.

To think about the potential of this initiative just imagine that Parliamentarians' expenses were all released in a tagged and easily searchable format. In seconds any member of the public could see what was claimed for in any category: search: "Moat". Or more usefully :"Maintenance"

But that's looking at ways of making available information that perhaps the owners are reluctant to share. What about the reverse; when we have information that we think is useful, important and that we actively want to share? What kinds of ways can we use systems such as tagging to make our information more available?

And so my experiment.

Watching Shelagh develop the idea and the reality of Lantana it is obvious that she has done a lot of research. And in particular she has done lots of research around the area of good food: ethically and sustainably produced, organic and locally sourced, fair trade, delicious food. Quite a quagmire to navigate and perhaps one that, now she has invested her time, she can help others to understand.

So in the interests of promoting good food we're going to make that research available in two formats.

1. Explicit: I'm going to ask her for her top 3 things she's learnt about sourcing 'good' food for a small independent cafe, in the hope that the information will be of use to others attempting the same. We'll just put these in a blog post here. But the clever thing we're going to do here is to start a regular format, sort like the Vanity Fair Proust Questionnaire. So next time we interview someone form the world of good food for Scrambling Eggs we can use the same format and then start to compare and contrast the answers. Fun, no?

2. Implicit: we're going to share the Lanatana page for useful links. These can be found here.

For those of you who haven't used Delicious its simply an online bookmarking service, but at its most rich and useful, its a directory of what people find interesting (online). The user saves a page they want to retrieve later (yes I know that's bookmarking) but the user can also add a series of tags to make it easier to find the page and to group it with other pages that are similar in some way. Because your bookmarks can be made public, Delicious can show you not just the pages that you have saved and tagged as 'recipes', 'cajun', shrimp', but also all of the other pages that other users have saved with these same tags.

To be continued...

*Leo Ryan works as a digital planner, helping businesses to optimise their use of social media technologies. He is also my big brother.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Monday, 3 August 2009

Fused and confused

Last week we decided it was time to acknowledge the season the English refer to as summer and introduce some new dishes onto the menu.

English people often ask me whether Lantana’s menu is Australian and I don’t really know how to answer them. I am Australian, our chef is Australian and the food on our menu is very typical of the food you find in cafes in Australia. But what is Australian cuisine?

In countries like Italy, France, India and China, cooking is a cultural institution where recipes are passed down from generation to generation and remain authentic and virtually unaltered for hundreds of years. This is not the case in Australia, or at least not in my family, where I was fed a varied diet of spaghetti bolognese, stir fries, and curries as my mother and father experimented with new recipes that they were learning from cookbooks and magazines rather than their mothers.

The Australian diet has constantly evolved in response to the arrival of different migrant groups: the British followed by the Chinese, Italians, Vietnamese, Greeks, Turkish, Indians, Thais and so on. The cuisines of our migrants met the same fate as the migrants themselves; thrown into the soup pot called Australian multiculturalism and confidently blended together. One of the legacies of this assimilation immigration policy is Australian cuisine.

Today, breakfast at a café in Australia could include miso porridge, a scrambled egg burrito, french toast with labne and orange blossom syrup or toasted pide with vegemite. Chefs and food writers created the label ‘fusion cuisine’ to describe this eclectic approach to cooking which, while well intended, can sometimes be more confused than fused.

The finest exemplar of Australia’s confusion cuisine is the chiko roll where we took a centuries old dish, the Chinese egg roll, and gave it the assimilation treatment. The result?

A greasy deep-fried chewy spring roll filled with mushy vegetables and mutton that has become a national icon; immortalized in the movie Puberty Blues where a surfer tells his girlfriend to “Get me a chiko roll…and don’t take any bites on the way back”.

Which brings me back to the summer menu at Lantana. I think the best way to describe it is Australian multicultural confusion cuisine at its most delicious.


Brioche french toast w caramelised plums and berries served w pistachio ricotta

Grilled haloumi, mushrooms with herb pesto, poached egg, sautéed spinach, and roast tomatoes served w sourdough toast

Thai beef salad

But perhaps the most quintessentially Australian item on the menu is the steak sandwich with sliced beetroot. I don’t know whether you’d call that fusion cuisine or just pure genius.