A new app developed by the S.C. Department of Agriculture aims to help diners learn which of their favorite local restaurants is actually the most local.
Compatible with iPhone, iPad and all Android devices, the "Fresh on the Menu" app features a list of more than 300 restaurants across the state -- including more than two dozen Beaufort, Bluffton and Hilton Head Island restaurants -- that source their meat, vegetables and other products from South Carolina farmers and other purveyors when in season.
The app, released June 5, also features profiles on noteworthy South Carolina chefs, recipes and a "Roots" section, which spotlights farms, breweries and other businesses that supply restaurants across the state.
"Talks about the app really started last year because we wanted to do something that took advantage of our state's huge culinary presence," said Kelly Coakley, department spokeswoman. "Charleston is such a nationally known culinary destination, and Greenville is coming along ...(and) there really is a huge movement right now across the state and across the country toward eating local. We really wanted to make something that would make it easier for people to find restaurants that are serving certified South Carolina grown products."
Among the local restaurants featured on the app is Buffalo's at Palmetto Bluff, one of several restaurants at the resort that executive chef Brandon Carter oversees.
Carter said the app is an important tool in what he sees as the growing role chefs play in schooling diners on the importance of knowing where their food comes from before it appears on a menu or on their plate.
"Our job is really about telling the story of ... who grew this particular vegetable or raised these pigs," Carter said. "And then we use those products to tell our own stories as chefs through the finished product on the plate. This app, if used properly, should help us do that because it'll point people in the direction of restaurants and chefs who are trying to source locally as much as they can."
To be featured on the app, restaurants must apply through the Agriculture Department's "Fresh on the Menu" program, which requires they provide a list of their suppliers to prove they are sourcing at least 25 percent of their ingredients from South Carolina suppliers.
Coakley acknowledged that the program works largely on the honor system and there is little to no follow-up on behalf of state officials to prove the restaurants continue to use local ingredients, such as inspecting the invoices of participating restaurants on a regular basis.
While imperfect, chefs like Richard Wilson of Maggie's Pub in Habersham said the program and the new app are steps in the right direction.
"I don't care if you're claiming to be a local restaurant and you aren't really but 25 percent? I think we can do better than that." Wilson said. "I think (Fresh on the Menu) needed a shot in the arm and coming up with an app was a great idea. I think this is the way that we can really start squeezing restaurants and squeezing chefs to know their farmers and source locally as much as possible."
Wilson added that he plans to source over 80 percent of his ingredients, including beef and other meats, from within South Carolina this year.
The free app has already started to gain traction with local diners.
"I actually heard about it from a couple customers the other night before I had any real idea what it was," Wilson said. "I think for my younger clientele, the 20- or 30-somethings, this app is going to be really great and a useful tool. I expect it'll be great for my business."
Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/IPBG_Patrick.
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