Today was our fourth annual Eat Local Challenge – an event when all Bon Appetit cafes across the country make a meal completely of local ingredients. When we unveiled the Eat Local Challenge program in 2005, it was with some trepidation. Bon Appétit’s philosophy has always been to empower our chefs and managers to do what’s best for their guests and clients. We never send out menus from “corporate” or tell our people what to celebrate. The Eat Local Challenge marked a change in that every Bon Appétit café was asked to hold a similar event on the same day. At headquarters, much discussion took place around the question of whether this would be perceived as contrary to our core philosophy.
It quickly became clear that our worries were unwarranted as chefs and managers around the country took the loose outline provided, serve one meal made completely of local ingredients, and ran with it. In fact, Hurricane Katrina hit in the weeks before the event and we thought about canceling the Challenge. When we floated the idea in the field, protest rang loud and clear. Our people were so excited about the upcoming event that there was no way we could call it off. They would have gone forward without us!
Based on the success of the first year, I couldn’t wait to see what our people created for 2006 and 2007. Past successes were shared with new locations and positive peer pressure raised the bar for everyone. I watched with great joy as many cafés pushed the limits and figured out how to go 100% local for that day.
By this year we wondered if the event had fatigued. Is it still a challenge the fourth time or will people just trot out last year’s menus? Again, my worries were for naught. The creativity of our chefs is consistently amazing. They have gotten more comfortable with the event and have involved more of the staff. One chef had his front of house team write the menu. We also brought the Challenge to new locations. Our first Eat Local Challenge in Kansas was a big success even garnering attention from a local television news crew. For a sampling of media clips, click here.
I eagerly await our 2009 Eat Local Challenge and the surprises our people have in store for me. I’m sure they will once again surpass my expectations!
– Maisie Greenawalt, Vice President