Women in Food: 10 Questions with a Farm to Table Sourcing Specialist for Large Scale Dining

Women in Food: 10 Questions with a Farm to Table Sourcing Specialist for Large Scale Dining

What does a restaurant, cafeteria or food shop do when they want to use local products, but don’t have the man power to source and order from individual farmers? That’s where this business comes in…

When you go out to eat, it’s obvious how much of an impact the local food movement has had over the past five years. Diners and shoppers expect access and the usage of the products produced locally, whether they’re shopping in a gourmet grocery or ordering in a cafeteria. We, myself included, expect food retailers to support local businesses for the good it does the local economy as well as the environment.

But the fact is, sourcing from individual farmers can be a cumbersome process. Sometimes a farm may not produce the entire quantity of product needed by a location, meaning the location would need to source from multiple places. And unfortunately, sometimes it’s not worth the hours required to complete that task (remember, there’s still an entire other aspect of the business to run) and as a result, less places use local sourced options. Local vendors may want a call to order while others may want emails. It’s a lot to deal with. Which is where Abby McAllister, the
Natural Foods & Farm-to-Table Specialist at Schenck comes in.

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Schenck Foods is a Virginia based company that, with Abby’s help, provides the connection for food service accounts (fine dining, convenience stores, gourmet food shops, schools and even individuals) and farmers. A company can call Abby to get help finding, ordering and delivering a product. Even as an individual, give them a call and they’ll have your order ready for pick up!

This is also a great step for small producers and farms since Schenck Foods removes the stress of distribution. As Abby told me “it’s a win-win because we already have the infrastructure for distribution. So, it’s been a great relationship all around, we’ve come to find, and we’re loving every minute of it!”

(Here’s Abby celebrating Schenck’s 90th anniversary!)

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  1. Tell us about yourself and your business.
    I have a background in pastry arts and eventually eased into the savory side. I love all types of cooking, but my heart is still belongs to pastry! At the time I came to Schenck Foods, I was married, and needed a more regular schedule and less stress so I could enjoy a better work-life balance. I started in sales, and really enjoyed being a sales rep for the company! Jason, our CEO, was always wondering how he could move his vision of farm-to-table forward, and eventually gave the green-light to create this position for me. So now I focus on sourcing local foods and working with local farmers! My official title is ‘Natural Foods & Farm-to-Table specialist’. It’s difficult at times because our industry doesn’t really work on this micro-level. From educating our staff to working through logistics, there’s always hiccups. But, the time we spend making sure we get things right only makes us a better company.

  2. If you could define your food philosophy in one sentence it would be….
    Keep it simple. You were at the taste event at Hillbrook, so you know my dessert was pretty rustic. But, showcasing the naturally-occurring flavors and beauty in food is the most important thing to me. I don’t put sauces on my steaks, my croissants aren’t filled with crazy concoctions, and I love a roasted seasonal vegetable- just salt, pepper, and olive oil and throw it in the oven until it’s brown and crispy.

  3. What are your 3 must have foods in your kitchen?
    I’ll assume you’re asking for ingredients? And that’s a hard one… probably a grainy dijon mustard, unsalted butter, and sherry vinegar.

  4. It’s your birthday. What are you eating?
    Oh my… Well, I’d like a nice meal at the Restaurant at Patowmack Farm. Otherwise, anywhere I can find a crispy, perfectly cooked duck breast!

  5. Signature cocktail?
    A true Irish girl, I’m always after a glass of whiskey to sip on. But, recently I was at the liquor store and found that Belle Isle Shine is now making a COLD BREW moonshine- so I just had to make something with it! Cold Brew ‘Shine, simple syrup, cold brew, and a splash of half & half; shake and pour over ice. Perfect any time of day! You could say it’s a grown up version of your traditional White Russian.

  6. Food you can’t like no matter how hard you try?
    Mushrooms! I absolutely hate them, and lord knows I’ve tried. Even the much-exalted truffle can’t tempt me!

  7. What are your go-to resources for all things food (websites/magazines/groceries etc)?
    I love the Chefsteps website; it’s so nice to be able to have a page where both professionals and food novices can read and learn and share their knowledge/experiences. Of course I love Bon Appetit and Cook’s Illustrated, and I still purchase lots of cook books!

  8. Food fad you wish would die a horrible death?
    I love avocado as much as the next person, but it doesn’t have to go in/on EVERYTHING!

  9. Must have kitchen tool:
    Aside from a good knife, I’d have to say my microplane. You never know when you’ll have to zest a lemon!

  10. What’s the one thing you learned this year that changed the way you think about food?
    Recently I learned about the complexity of the octopus’ brain, almost on par with dogs. Since learning that, it’s been very difficult to order off of any menu. Though, it used to be one of my go-to’s!

Dietitian Nutritionist. My husband Chris and I create food and beverage photos, videos, stopmotions and recipes. And they're really cool.