Tuesday, April 8, 2014

THE ECONOMY OF LOCAL FOOD

This was written by one of our farmers and sent to be last week. Not only is Harry a great guy, he's also a great writer so I wanted to share.

By Harry Carr, Owner/Farmer of Mint Creek Farm

Recently, during the "Farmer Talent Show", at "The Hideout", a fellow farmer said to me he was frustrated to be "sacrificing his head at the chopping block of sustainable agriculture." Similarly, at an organic conference this winter another farmer asked a presenter how to grow a livable wage. Underlying these comments is the ever-present economic frustration among small-scale local food growers. Everybody loves what we are doing including us, but we are struggling financially to continue.

At the heart of the local food economic problem is the "economy of scale" or in this case the "un-economy of small scale". We all probably have heard Adam Smith's rap on division of labor from The Wealth of Nations but it never hurts for a review.

One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head: to make the head requires two or three distinct operations: to put it on is a particular business, to whiten the pins is another ... and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which in some manufactories are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometime perform two or three of them.

Smith recognized how the output could be increased through the use of labor division. Previously, in a society where production was dominated by handcrafted goods, one man would perform all the activities required during the production
process, while Smith described how the work was divided into a set of simple tasks, which would be performed by specialized workers. The result of labor division in Smith's example resulted in productivity increasing by 24,000 percent (sic), i.e.
that the same number of workers made 240 times as many pins as they had been producing before the introduction of labor division.

Our industrial food system has huge economy of scale. Local farmers are always bench-marked by the grocery store prices of the industrial food system. Often our prices are double or triple the grocery prices, but still not enough for the local farmer to cover his expenses. We do not have the volume to have much of a division of labor and that is what makes the work both fun and exhausting.

Before the industrial food system, most of us were growing food on a small scale often in a subsistence way. Today with fewer than 2% farming in the US, we spend less than ten percent of our income on food; while we spend almost double that on healthcare. This USDA graph shows the percentage of income spent on food around the world.

One of the many problems with industrializing anything is that it becomes far too easy to micro-manage costs. Always looking for new ways to cut corners, producers enter into a race to the bottom to stay ahead of the competition. Regulators and government overseers are supposed to regulate quality and we all know how well that has worked. A case in point remember the recent "Lean finely textured beef" (pink slime) scandal, where US meat plants, whose sole purpose was to incorporate kerf trimmings from band saws blades, (after soaking in ammonia gas or citric acid). These were then reincorporated back into the ground beef of large meat processors.

I cannot imagine small local processors who handle orders for small farms like ours using this product. However, small-scale local food producers lack the cost advantages of this and many other similar industrial agriculture processes.

So the question begs asking: How can we support the retaking of our food economy back from the industrialists? We have heard about voting with your fork but how about on the investment side?

Crowd funding has surfaced as an appropriate method for individuals to help small farmers finance their farm operations. Our friends Julia and Todd McDonald of Peasants Plot Farm have just started a Kickstarter campaign. I know they can use your help! Check it out here.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Wedding and Social Events Manager

As you know (if you've been reading the blog), FIG is a small events caterer focused on providing sustainable food and a high level of service for corporate, in-home, and wedding events. We are adding a very important position to our team , a Wedding and Social Events Manager. If you are interested in joining FIG, see the job description below and send in a cover letter and resume if you qualify.

Day-to-day activities include:
- Fielding new client inquiries via e-mail and phone
- Creating custom menu proposals including rental and staff pricing
- Executing contracts for full service catering
- Creating banquet event orders (BEO) for the kitchen
- Communicating with the kitchen, staffing manager, and owner to produce events
- On-site event management

Higher-level activities include:
- Maintaining relationships with social and wedding clients
- Wedding and Social Event proposal development
- Maintaining and building relationships with venues and event planners.
- Working with owners and management team to develop business and recognize growth opportunities

Necessary skills:
- Proficiency in Microsoft Office Suite including Outlook
- Familiarity with Google Documents or willingness to learn
- Excellent people skills
- Very organized and detail-oriented
- Ability to juggle many balls at one time
- 1-5 years sales experience, preferably in catering or food related field

It would also help if…
- You have knowledge of sustainable food and are able to communicate its value.
- You have previous food service experience within the restaurant or catering industry.
- You like working in intimate office settings with direct owner contact (we don’t bite, I promise).

Compensation will include base salary, hourly event compensation, commission bonus for liquor sales, potential tip income, and health insurance. Please send resumes to molly@FIGcatering.com to be considered.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Home on a Saturday night

by Molly Schemper

Holy moly! When I started this business 8.5 years ago I never imagined I'd be home by 5 pm on a Saturday night...in December. Nine years ago when FIG was a mere notion in my head I was in love with the idea of being my own boss. I was excited to be in the kitchen learning alongside my boyfriend, experimenting with new recipes, and having fun serving, bartending, and cooking at parties. I never thought of the fact that one day I'd have employees that would do these things instead of me, that I would have to manage and oversee, make sure things were going right on the back end.

Six years ago Justin and I decided to really try supporting ourselves with this little catering company - pushing our day jobs to the side and throwing ourselves into the business. If we worked really hard, if we provided great food and made sure our costs didn't get out of control, and if we met the right people maybe it would work. We worked non-stop during the holidays (December was our busiest month of the year), washing dishes when we returned from an event so we could repack for the next day. We cooked, baked, packed, delivered, served, cleaned, and did it all over again. Virtually all by ourselves...

Four and a half years ago we realized that we wouldn't be able to get any bigger until we had some help. We started hiring kitchen and administrative help. Our roles became more focused - his on the savory side and accounting, mine on the sweet side and marketing/client contact. We still worked long hours, but began to realize we could give some responsibilities away.

Almost four years ago we hired our own service staff. We trained them and began to feel more in control of the product we were putting out there (it's not just about the food). We began to trust our servers and bartenders to work independently...if we dropped off food, or with a managing supervisor. I rarely get a chance to be a server or bartender any more.

Two years ago I realized that the wedding salesperson and coordinator that I trained from the ground up was walking all on her own. Make that running. Elyse was booking more weddings than me, handling them flawlessly, and able to tackle just about anything a client threw her way.

Two years ago FIG hired a full time baker. Although I attempted to train him that's never been my strong suit and luckily for me he was a great independent learner. He still works in our kitchen, but is there during our off hours (essentially overnight) working on his own business, Beurrage (our second FIG baby!). Having a full time baker has reduced my time in the kitchen quite substantially.

I'm still busy (working 10+ hours on most days), but my time is filled with more meetings, strategizing, and managing. Tonight FIG is catering a wedding where Elyse is the manager and Justin is the head chef, we are catering an in-home party where our sous chef and a senior staff are holding down the fort, and we are catering a few casual events with delivered food that my brother in-law/delivery driver is handling. I am writing a blog, thinking about marketing strategies for the Chicago Green Wedding Alliance, updating our website, and deciding what FIG is going to do next year. In all honesty I don't know if I like this role as much. I like being my own boss, but I don't really like being "the boss." I like getting my hands dirty, not sitting in front of a computer. I like serving people - making them smile with a perfectly made martini, folding their napkin when they get up from the table, and hearing them "ooh" and "aah" over dessert. But don't worry I'll get to do that more tomorrow when I join Justin in the kitchen for a 30 person in-home party, just like the old days.





Thursday, October 3, 2013

Lauren & Luke: Abundance of Love & Food

by Elyse Moore

Lauren & Luke’s love story is one for the ages. I remember feeling giddy listening to Lauren tell me about meeting Luke in Jamaica on vacation earlier last winter, when I met Lauren and her mom for a tasting. Luke was living in Wales and Lauren was in Chicago, but distance didn’t matter. Less than a year later they were married in Chicago, joined by an international guest list of friends and family. I did not meet Luke until the wedding, but every step of the day, down the aisle to the dance floor, everyone could feel how in love they are—infectiously, romantically in love. The couple chose a menu that reflects the origin of their love, featuring Jamaican Jerk Chicken, Greens Patties (like an empanada), and Caribbean Pulled Pork for dinner. The hors d’oeuvres were also fresh and tropical—like Tuna Poke on a Pineapple Chip and Grilled Shrimp Spring Roll with Coconut-Cilantro Sauce.


Greenhouse Loft Photography

My favorite idea that Lauren's mom had for the wedding, which FIG helped to execute, was food-focused centerpieces, instead of flowers. The tables were decorated with beautiful platters of colorful, fresh vegetable crudités, heirloom tomatoes with fresh basil, and various dips & chips for the guests to snack on before they went up to the buffet for dinner.


Greenhouse Loft Photography

The abundance of the menu reflected Lauren & Luke's love, and carried over into dessert also, where guests helped themselves to various pies, ice cream sundaes, fresh fruit and cheese.


Greenhouse Loft Photography

As a caterer, we don’t often get to see much (if any) of the couple outside of the reception on the wedding day. So I was so excited to see Lauren & Luke’s wedding video by Smiling Toad. From the first look at the hotel, to pictures at North Avenue Beach, through the ceremony and reception, Smiling Toad completely captured Lauren & Luke's love story, as told on their wedding day, for everyone to watch, and for Lauren, Luke, and their family to look back on on vividly forever. I'm so glad we could be a small part of their Big Day!


Smiling Toad

All food (including centerpieces!) and service by FIG Catering
All photos by Jamie Davis and Steve Ewert, Greenhouse Loft Photography
Videography, Smiling Toad
Venue, Greenhouse Loft
DJ, Mark at DJ Chicago
Rentals, Tablescapes
Linens, Windy City Linen

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Qui Servit Regit

by Jordan Hoisington

Yes, this is a new name. Jordan is a FIG staffer who has been working gigs with us for almost two years and is now lead captain on many events. He's a sometimes working actor who by-chance is friends with our very own, Elyse Moore. Jordan loves his cat (and takes care of Elyse's when she's away), knows a sufficient amount about beer, and is from Michigan making him an a-okay guy in our book.

I first encountered FIG while attending a friend's wedding at Salvage One. Having worked on and off in catering for a couple years, I didn’t have great expectations - chicken Cordon blech, watery salmon with a lemon slice, and deep fried junk came to mind. Even though I've enjoyed my share of nachos and gyros, thanks to a mother who loved to garden and cook, I’ve also been exposed to good, fresh, wholesome food. So I was pleasantly surprised when I found the food at my friend's wedding, (stationed hors d'oeuvres), to be fresh, delicious, and often organically or locally grown (it was March so local food was a bit scarce).

After a brief post-wedding chat with my friend, Elyse, she suggested I apply to be a server with FIG, so I did and, I got hired! I would soon realize that my initial impressions of FIG were spot on. They were a company who really cared about food - where it came from, how it looked, and how it tasted. In the course of events I have worked with FIG, I have seen a guy have to sit down after a particularly incredible arancini, have heard a room full of guests grow silent as they contemplated the flavors in a small lamb meatball, and have had many guests quietly approach me for recipes. One guy whose "favorite beer" was Bud Light had a small existential crisis after trying his first Krankshaft Kolsch. These are small moments that make me realize that serving people great food is awesome.

The waiter, or the server, is the primary point of contact between the kitchen and the guests. We are the fulcrum that allows the efforts of the kitchen to be leveraged into the emotional and sensory effects felt by the diners. This is even more critical at a catered event, where you may be in a client’s home or at "THE MOST IMPORTANT EVENT OF THEIR LIFE." It’s a hard job and if you are a perfectionist it can drive you completely insane. You might be on your feet for 10 hours, and breaks can be surprisingly brief. You're feeding everyone food when you may not have eaten for many hours (stomach grumbles). Clients can be demanding. You have to empathize, anticipate, plan, and stay positive. You have to manage a mental list of 4 to 15 tasks that need to be completed in the next 5 to 45 minutes, and then that list gets completely thrown out the window. Smile, it’s a great job too. If you are a perfectionist you can leave feeling like you could successfully run a Middle East peace summit. Ten hours can feel like 30 minutes, and you forgot to take a break. Clients are often gracious, grateful, and even “Huggy”.

I don’t expect to be doing this for the rest of my life, I’ll eventually figure out how to do the things I currently do for free for money, namely Acting, Writing, and Professional Millionairing. But I can definitely think of worse roads to walk. I take a lot of pride in working for Justin and Molly; it’s hard to find an employer who agrees with you philosophically, ethically, and creatively. It’s rare to find people who genuinely drive themselves to improve the crafts that they love, and then hire you to help them do it.

He Who Serves, Rules.
Oh, wait, that’s us.
We Rule.

Monday, May 6, 2013

We're HIRING

We're growing and as much as we all like working 60+ hours a week and not getting caught up I think it's time to do some hiring. The FIG family is looking to add an Office/Administrative Assistant for 30 hours a week. The job will involve corresponding with new and returning clients (and handing them off to the appropriate salesperson), fielding information calls/emails, creating and managing forms for catering jobs, and keeping an office calendar. You will be responsible for making sure our office and kitchen staff are on the same page and developing effective communication strategies/methods.

Necessary skills:
- Proficiency in Microsoft Office Suite, strong Excel and Outlook skill required
- Familiarity with Google Documents or willingness to learn
- Excellent people skills
- Very organized and detail-oriented
- Ability to juggle many balls at one time
- 1-2 years of office experience

It would also help if…
- You have accounting experience or are good with numbers.
- You have respect for the environment and understand our mission at FIG to be good environmental stewards, minimizing our waste and using local and organic products.
- You like working in intimate office settings with direct owner contact (we don’t bite, I promise).

Compensation will be based on experience.

Send resumes to staff@FIGcatering.com. Please send a resume before calling.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Spring Cleaning

by Elyse Moore


In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and - SNAP - the job's a game! -Mary Poppins

What do April showers bring? Pilgrims! (Get it, May flowers, the Mayflower. Right, you got it.) And spring cleaning!

One aspect of events, and weddings in particular, that we’re always anxiously aware of, and trying to improve/limit, is waste. In an effort to put together a beautiful and unique event for 150 (or more, or less) of your closest friends and families, you might find yourself needing to purchase a lot of unique stuff, in multiples. Lots of multiples. That you will never need or use again. Now that the “I do’s” are signed, sealed, and delivered, you don’t really want to be indefinitely storing dozens or hundreds of mason jars, little vases, votives, handmade runners, yards of fabric, and other assorted DIY projects. Ultimately, when you move or have kids or get a big dog, these trinkets and bobbles will end up in a landfill or an alley, hoping someone will stumble upon your box of creative goodies and make good use out of them.

Have you ever heard of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch? That's a real thing. But, ok, so maybe your milk glass isn't exactly caught up in that mess, but plenty of waste is, that could have been reused or recycled, just like your leftover wedding and event decor.

Spring is the perfect time to make a concerted effort to clean out our (event) closets of excess. (More room for summer dresses and rosé! What's that you say? You don't keep cases of rosé in your closet?) Or, if you're getting married this year or next, maybe you're in the opposite-of-spring-cleaning phase and stocking up on boxes of unique goodies for your party. But either way, the Chicago Green Wedding Alliance has the perfect event to assist you! On Sunday, April 28th join us at Loft on Lake for the first annual Great Wedding Recyclery. We already have a ton of couples and vendors participating, but we're still looking for lightly used and vintage wedding or other event items - from Mason jars, to vases, to dresses, to jewelry, and more are wanted - for brides, grooms, and vendors to peruse and buy. And maybe you're one of those couples or vendors looking to stock up on this swag, in which case, have we got a deal for you! Please stop on by and say hi-- save money, reuse stuff, and save the world (or at least create a little less waste).

$5 suggested donation benefits The Resource Center.