A legacy of B.C.’s ranching task force is coming up with a way to get B.C. beef into local restaurants.
The idea is simple enough: allow restaurants and catering companies to use beef raised in this province — perhaps less than 100 miles away — in their kitchens.
But it’s taking an effort from chefs, Thompson Rivers University, ranchers, abattoirs and a Kamloops high technology firm to put it all together.
The first steps to the program — called B.C. beef for B.C. chefs — are underway with a series of meetings among groups, shepherded by Gillian Watt, TRU’s manager of community and industry development.
“The big picture is to get more B.C. beef into B.C. markets,” said Watt, who is overseeing the program funded by the B.C. Ranching Task Force started originally by former Premier Gordon Campbell.
To the typical restaurant-goer the task doesn’t seem particularly complex. The cattle is close to local restaurants. Isn’t proximity the No. 1 attribute?
The answer is complex to anyone unfamiliar with the B.C. beef supply chain.
Nearly all beef raised on Interior ranches is sent to massive Alberta packing houses, like the now infamous XL Beef, where it is processed and sent to grocers or food suppliers. While sophisticated systems exist to track animals and cuts of beef, there are reasons bureaucracy and economies of scale why suppliers such as Sysco and GFS Canada find it harder to supply a niche market.
In addition, cattle are comprised of far more than top round roast, the staple of restaurant offerings.
Which leaves the option of cutting out the middleman, allowing chefs to order a complete carcass or side of beef.
Those involved in the program say it’s unrealistic for small restaurants to be involved in the program because they don’t have the freezer space or volume of sales to purchase carcasses or sides of beef.
Instead, the target is hotels and catering companies, for example, that can utilize all the cuts on offer.
“The B.C. change is there’s about 20 cuts,” said Craig Park, sales and brand manager for Okanagan’s Finest Angus Beef.
“The biggest change is utilizing all the cuts. Everyone wants tenderloin.”
But market research has shown chefs at large restaurants and catering firms are eager to use all the cuts on offer.
That’s where Matt deFouw comes in. His company, Orchestrate Technology Inc. is building what he calls an “online farmers’ market” for chefs.
“You’ll pick a region and a finishing method. You’ be able to say grass-fed or grass-finished. It will allow you to get what you’re really looking for.”
The system will also allow chefs to tell customers where, to the specific ranch, their beef originates.
DeFouw said that’s all possible today, but it requires effort on the part of busy kitchens.
“Right now it’s a labour of love — and no one wants a labour of love.”
If all goes to plan, establishments will be able to do what Plaza Hotel is already accomplishing on its own. The hotel strictly uses beef from Haughton Ranch in Knutsford.
“I think it’s just putting in the effort,” said chef Mike Swann. “Our customers expect to buy it this way.”