You can find “Restaurant Week” events all over the country at just about any time of the year. They’re pretty much the same -- restaurants offer a prix fixe menu that represents a better deal if you purchase the multi-course specially priced meal than if you ordered the same items a la carte.
But during the last week of January there will be a restaurant week event that could take place only in Orlando.
From January 25 through the 31st area restaurants will participate in the first Eat Local Week. The twist here is that special menus will highlight the various ingredients, from meats and seafoods to cheeses, breads, herbs and other produce, that are grown and supplied by local concerns.
The event is sponsored by the Slow Food Orlando convivium, and the nonprofit group lacks the resources to give it the proper fanfare you might see for other Restaurant Week kinds of events. But this is a huge moment for the Central Florida restaurant community.
It’s important on a number of levels. It shows the creativity of our chefs who have put together special menus for the event, with each course highlighting one or more locally-sourced ingredient. And by the way, it should be noted that a lot of these chefs have been using the local ingredients all along, whenever they can find them. But to that point, it’s also significant for those producers who would like to connect with more restaurants. These are area businesses that labor next to nationally recognized brands and distributors.
And it’s important to the diners, also for a number of reasons. Food that is purchased from growers located nearby -- and for our purposes we’re talking about a 200-mile radius -- has a smaller carbon footprint than food that has to be jetted in from across the country or even another continent.
It also shortens the food chain a bit, allowing diners to know more about where their food comes from. Think about the health scares in recent years involving spinach or broccoli or salsa -- most of those issues were eventually traced to mass-producing growers far away. It isn’t always the case, but often the local growers are more vigilant in their farming and harvesting. And the food can go from the farm to the chef, removing one or two warehousing or distribution points from the journey.
And ingredients are fresher. Few of the local purveyors will be offering canned items.
What can you expect from Eat Local Week menus? A wide array of items. You’ll find mixed greens from Heart of Christmas Farms; Cape Canaveral Wild Royal Red Shrimp; eggs from Lake Meadow Natural; free-range pork from Palmetto Creek Farms; tomatoes from Rest Haven Farms; beef from Deep Creek Ranch (braised, at Harmoni Market, in Blackwater Dry Porter from Orlando Brewing); and sweeteners from Winter Park Honey, among others.
And the participating restaurants offer a diverse assortment, as well, ranging from the extreme casual, such as Austin’s Coffee or Eden Bar at the Enzian, to full-blown fine dining, such as can be found at Luma on Park, K Restaurant and the Ravenous Pig. Click here for a full list_of_participating_restaurants .
And click here for a sampling of menus .
I encourage you to support as many of these restaurants as you can. It will show the chefs that you think this is important, it will encourage more purveyors to provide local ingredients, and it will keep more of your dining dollars in the community. All really good things.
Here’s one more link, to slowfoodorlando.org.