The Fresh on the Menu’s homepage allows users to search for a restaurant in South Carolina or scroll through a list. (Screenshot from Fresh on the Menu)
Spring in South Carolina means a slew of fresh produce and ingredients are arriving in kitchens across the state.
Fresh on the Menu, a program sponsored by the S.C. Department of Agriculture, highlights restaurants and chefs who are sourcing food locally.
The program not only serves as a tool for hungry customers to use when they want to find local restaurants but helps reduce long-distance food transportation. Eating local ingredients also reinforces an existing bond between the communities of people, chefs, restaurants and farms.
At the end of the day, communities want to support kitchens that are sourcing from farms in their own state.
“As a chef, you should be looking for the best ingredient,” said Keven McDonald, owner and chef of Il Giorgione on Columbia’s Devine Street. “And the best ingredient is what’s growing around you.”
Fresh on the Menu launched in 2008, and Ansley Turnblad, a S.C. Department of Agriculture marketing specialist, has watched it grow from the beginning.
“We had so much interest from chefs (wanting) to source local, and (we) wanted to recognize that on their menus that they were serving local products,” Turnblad said.
Fresh on the Menu’s website features restaurants using at least 25% locally sourced ingredients. It posts recipes from the restaurants and videos with chefs.
“Quality over … quantity has kind of always been my motto when it comes to our Fresh on the Menu program,” Turnblad said.
But Turnblad said not every restaurant in South Carolina is a fit for the program. Not all of the kitchens in the state are set up to be able to source locally, and some are not at a point where the restaurants want to do that.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control inspects “more than 22,000 retail food establishments statewide,” according to its website.
Fresh on the Menu showcases 279 on its website.
“Whenever we find a new restaurant or hear about a new restaurant that is doing a lot …, we’ll reach out to them (or) they’ll reach out to us,” Turnblad said.
In addition to the website, the department uses social media, TV ads and print campaigns, Turnblad said.
There are 51 restaurants in Richland County on Fresh on the Menu’s website.
Boca Grande Burritos’ owner and chef, David Grillo, works with locally sourced ingredients and adds his own spin to a fast-paced burrito joint.
“I try to pull from and highlight regional and local products and ingredients and then just utilize them either in highlights on specials and make those ingredients stand out,” Grillo said. “We just use them in our day to day.”
He said it’s more feasible now than ever to work with farmers because the network between farmers and restaurants has improved.
“So I can order online to my farm, direct with some of them,” Grillo said. “We’re getting that technology now. So it just makes it a much simpler process.”
Il Giorgione serves up fresh and local ingredients for its Italian fare. It describes itself as having an authentic Italian experience on the Fresh on the Menu website.
“I’ve always been a proponent of local food,” McDonald said. ” … To highlight local products and the farmers in general is the best thing you can do.”
Fresh on the Menu also helps local businesses support each other.
“You’re gonna get a fresher product,” said Mike Davis, owner and chef of restaurant Terra. “You build relationships with the people that are really producing whatever the product is that you’re buying.”
Davis is a featured chef on Fresh on the Menu’s website and has been with the program since it began.
Fresh on the Menu helps create traction.
“The only way we grow in business is through networking,” Boca Grande’s Grillo said. “The only way we can network is to have that community.”
David Grillo opened Boca Grande Burritos almost two years ago. The restaurant makes sure to use customers’ names, not table numbers, with each order. (Photo by Grace Brown)
Boca Grande, located on Forest Drive, offers a relaxed dining atmosphere. (Photo by Grace Brown)
At Il Giorgione, Keven McDonald is inspired by Italian food because of the way it uses fresh ingredients, sometimes if only in small amounts. (Photo by Grace Brown)
Il Giorgione opened in 2012. McDonald bought the restaurant at the end of 2022 after working there several years as a chef. (Photo by Grace Brown)