Naomi Wise

Chipotle Growing Even More Local

Responding to Visduh -- Much of the beef at Chipotle is from Niman Ranch, which sort of straddles the line between small biz and agribiz. It started out as a tiny Northern California purveyor of hormone-free beef, called Niman-Schell, that actually came from one ranch. (As I recall, it was somewhere around Bolinas or Point Reyes, heartlands of aggie-hippieland.) As a San Franciscan during those years, I'd buy it whenever I found it, since the quality difference between that and supermarket beef (especially ground beef) was obvious to the palate. It rarely showed up in supermarkets, however, because many of the best local restaurants (e.g., Zuni, Fourth Street Grill in Berkeley) were glomming it all up. Eventually Orville Schell pulled out and Niman (whose first name I've never learned) went on to expand, on a nationwide "co-op" profit-sharing model, buying only beef from ranchers who agreed to meet much higher quality and humaneness standards than, say, the skinny Brazilian cows feeding McD's customers. You'll find Niman beef (at much higher prices than at Chipotle!) in many of the top restaurants in town, particularly in "chef" hamburgers. The carne asado burrito I ate there (and reviewed six years ago) was the closest approximation I'd found here to the superb carne asado burritos at La Cumbre in San Francisco -- a tiny taqueria, also with no service, where you'd follow your order along the counter specifying what you wanted and didn't want in your burrito (no rice in mine), and then pay at the register and take it to your table. There, as at Chipotle, one burrito fed two moderate appetites. (La Cumbre's fresh-made carne asado was a little tastier, but hey, in SD, you make do with what you've got.) And nobody's forcing people to eat huge burritos all in one sitting. Patrons can also specify what they want or don't want in the burrito and in everything else. Chipotle's menu is varied and includes smaller items -- and huge salads. That is to say, if people want to eat vast quantities of foods that make them obese, it's not necessarily the eatery's fault for serving the supersize portions that Americans crave and demand. And maybe the incrased freshness of local veggies will entice more people to order the salads. (As for the beans and the tortilla flour -- well, who the hell knows where any of that comes from? For home cooking, unless you spend a fortune on them at a health food store or Whole Foods-- and maybe not even then--not a clue! And if the oil is the ever-popular canola -- we do know. Comes from huge agribiz, drenching the fields with Monsanto weed-killer on the acres of -- wha? -- rape stalks.)
— July 3, 2011 8:33 p.m.

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