The challenges of going local

Egypt is a fertile land, but it can be very difficult for hotels to source locally-grown high quality ingredients. Although there is a lot of high quality produce grown, most of it is reserved for export, leaving local hotels to import food.
The challenges of going local
By Administrator
Wed 07 Nov 2007 12:39 PM

Egypt is a fertile land, but it can be very difficult for hotels to source locally-grown high quality ingredients. Although there is a lot of high quality produce grown, most of it is reserved for export, leaving local hotels to import food.

This can lead to high food costs and high frustration, but at the Four Seasons Alexandria, they are finding ways to work around the lack of quality local ingredients by partnering with local suppliers.

Explained Mohammed El Banna, Four Seasons F&B director, "There are high quality foods here, to be sure, but they are only for export. In order to get the highest quality locally-grown food you need to be able to buy in high quantity."

Since the Four Seasons cannot buy in huge quantities, they must think of other strategies. One is to join with other hotels to buy large quantities of particular ingredients. Another is to work with smaller suppliers to increase quality and consistency so they can buy smaller amounts. This strategy has been paying off, as El Banna has found many local suppliers eager to earn higher prices for their produce by improving quality.

El Banna explained that the hotel gave assistance to some local farmers and suppliers, and promised a higher price in exchange for consistently available produce. For other suppliers, a greater attention to the basics was needed, "It can be difficult to even get delivery in clean trucks, and have the produce well packed and in nice boxes," El Banna said.

Achieving consistency is an ongoing challenge. For example, for two or three months of the year, the government places a moratorium on fishing in the Mediterranean, in an attempt to save the rapidly depleting fish stocks. This means the hotel must source fish elsewhere during this time. But overall things are improving. "We have seen a real increase in food quality here," added El Banna. "People are trying hard to match the quality and it is getting easier." The hotel now uses 30-40% local ingredients. "The next steps is to run our own farm for lamb and veal."

The hotel has also included local specialities in its menu, featuring what El Banna described as "mama food".

These include Egyptian favourites such as fuul, molokhiya, tamia and Alexandrian style chicken liver, which are very popular for room service ordering. The hotel has also arranged for a local Greek woman to come in to cook authentic homemade Greek food (there is a long history of Greeks living in Alexandria).

"When we design the menu, we focus on local products and try to match the local tradition, we use traditional service of foods in order to respect the local culture," said El Banna.

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