An increasingly discerning customer base coupled with health scares associated with livestock have led to more and more chefs turning towards rare and speciality breed meats.
Chris Galvin, head chef of the one-Michelin-starred Orrery restaurant in London, anticipates that there will be growth in consumers' interest in the origins of the meat they eat. "In future, customers will demand to know where their food comes from," he says. Meanwhile, names often give more than a clue to origin. For instance, with Gloucestershire Old Spots pigs and Belted Galloway beef, origin and breed are both indicated.
Diners will often associate a specific taste with a particular breed as, generally, the flavours of speciality-breed meats are felt to be superior to those of mass-bred livestock, as rare breeds tend not to be reared by intensive farming methods. While this means that they can be more expensive, Richard Lutwyche, editor of The Ark, the magazine of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST), says: "The price is not in the realms of organic meat, and we find that more discerning customers are willing to pay that bit extra."
According to the RBST, there are about 51 rare breeds currently being farmed in Britain. To get a flavour of what is being offered to caterers, Chef teamed up with Food From Britain, the Government-funded organisation promoting home-produced speciality foods, to sample a selection of rare-breed meats, along with some speciality meat and fish.
The tasting took place at Wiz in west London, which is jointly owned by celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson and operations director and chef David Wilby. Wilby joined the panel of four tasters, all London-based chefs hoping to widen their knowledge of products available on the market. Twelve products were tasted.
For further information on rare breeds, contact the RBST (call 024 7669 6551 or log on to www.rare-breeds.com) for names of accredited butchers, background information and a listing of shows.
David Wilby is operations director and a partner in Wiz, and was our host for the tasting. His 125-seat restaurant serves 140 customers a day, mainly local residents, each spending an average of £32 with drink.
The variety of meats offered at Wiz, which serves food tapas-style, are middle white pork, chicken, beef and lamb. The top sellers are chicken livers, shoulder of lamb and chicken.
Chris Galvin is head chef at the one-Michelin-starred, 80-seat Orrery, part of Conran Restaurants. Customer numbers average 80 in the evening, each spending as much as £50 including drink.
Meats that have appeared on the Orrery's menu include shin of veal, guinea fowl, poulet de Bresse, saddle of suckling pig and leg of Pyrenees lamb.
Martin Lam is chef-patron of the two-AA-rosette Ransome's Dock restaurant. A mixture of local residents, business people and foreign travellers make up the daily average of 100 diners who patronise the 55-seat eaterie to sample Lam's modern British cuisine. Average spend including beverages is £25 at lunchtime and £45 in the evening.
Lam's menu features breeds and meats such as Trelough duck, shorthorn beef and Dutch calf's liver, as well as free-range chickens. He looks for taste, provenance and traceability from all his meats.
Peter Gottgens is chef-patron of the Springbok Café. The 40-seat restaurant specialises in modern and traditional South African food and serves an average of 45 customers per day, each spending about £35 with drink.
Gottgens is well known for his unusual meat selection, which includes springbok, zebra and blesbok (another type of antelope), all popular choices on the restaurant's menu. Unique appearance and taste, at a cost of not more than £20 per kilogram, are what he looks for in meat.
William J Cooper is head chef of the 45-seat Kaspia restaurant. Since caviare plays a significant part on the menu, the average of 60 customers a day can spend as much as £120 each with drink.
Veal, beef, lamb, duck and a variety of poultry all appear on Cooper's menu.