How organic veg is changing menus and minds at Sands' top restaurants
“Organic”, “sustainable”, “locally sourced”; you hear these terms daily in the media, but few of us take the time to understand what these words mean. Many people, understandably, have concluded that they are marketing buzzwords.
It’s a sad state of affairs. So when we heard that Sands China was promoting farm-to-table organic produce, we had to learn more.
Until June 30, the resorts’ signature restaurants are offering menus comprising organic, seasonal produce from carefully selected farms in southern China. As many as 30 different types of vegetables are included, cooked in different styles to match each type of cuisine.
One of the brains behind this campaign is Emmanuel Souliere, Executive Chef at Sands Cotai Central, who is a passionate advocate of fine food and world-class ingredients. He wants to show why “organic”, “sustainable” and “local” food is important.
Titled “Sands Dining Sensations – Spring Organic Delights”, the campaign is a pilot programme, Souliere says, to explore the viability of using locally sourced, sustainably produced vegetables more widely. His hope is that organic produce will eventually be offered at every restaurant throughout the integrated resort.
Souliere, along with a team of chefs, travelled to Conghua in Guangzhou province to see some organic farms, and determine for themselves whether the produce lived up to the claims that the growers were making. The team inspected the crops and the farming conditions in great detail, hiring an independent laboratory to test soil samples for pollutants and overall soil health. This painstaking process enabled them to choose the most responsible
growers producing the healthiest plants.
But why go organic?
First, Souliere points out that to describe this produce simply as “organic” is to understate the case: these vegetables were produced without pesticides or harmful chemicals, and without using irradiation, industrial solvents or food additives, as industrial crop production does. They’re also grown locally, using natural, ecologically sound techniques. These include both crop rotation and fallowing, which allows the soil to regenerate its own nutrients and microbes that are essential in growing healthy, delicious plants. The result is a product with a very low carbon footprint that is truly nutritious.
But making the switch to all-organic, sustainably produced vegetables isn’t without its downsides. First of all, it’s a little more expensive – though Souliere explains that this cost can be negated through improved planning.
Secondly, seasonal produce is, by definition, subject to the seasons, and fully organic farms are at the mercy of the natural elements more than their industrial counterparts. This means that restaurants can’t necessarily grow vegetables with the same year-round consistency as their industrial counterparts.
“Because these vegetables are seasonal and produced locally, we need to be flexible with our menus,” Souliere says. If a specific vegetable is not in season it might not be available, but with preparation, that’s okay: “We can explain to the customer what we are doing, and suggest an alternative. The customer will understand, if they have trust in us.”
Trust itself is probably the biggest challenge of all, Souliere says. Some customers have concerns about the safety of foodstuffs from mainland China, he says, because of a spate of high-profile cases in the country of food producers engaging in unethical and sometimes dangerous production practices. Visiting the farms in person and documenting those visits was a visible way of alleviating these concerns.
Going even further, the team has made sure that each item on the menu can be traced to its place of origin, showing how it goes from the soil, to the kitchen, to the table. Diners can also discuss this process with restaurant staff, who have been learning about the project for themselves.
“We are educating our staff about organic produce, so they can talk to the customers about it and give them the best experience possible,” Souliere says.
Organic food, then, is good for our bodies and for the environment, but it doesn’t stop there: Souliere believes that in spearheading this campaign, Sands China could show other businesses that this new way of doing things is not only possible, but lucrative. In turn, the initiative could affect positive social change. “If Chinese and Western diners can be shown that China has high quality, organic produce, it will give the farmers the support they need to grow” – which will, in turn, provide a much-needed boost to rural communities. And as sustainable, organic farming practices spread, they will become increasingly cost effective. “The more they grow, the more visibility they will have,” Souliere says.
The bottom line is that where you create awareness and understanding, you can encourage demand. And that demand can have far-reaching benefits – not only in Macao, but in mainland China and beyond.