At a restaurant where the cheapest entrée is $22 and dishes range upwards of $44 per person, it is to be expected the ingredients are of the freshest quality. But that may not be the case at Chicago’s Fig & Olive, according to new revelations brought to light by Washington City Paper.
It turns out the popular and pricey restaurant relies heavily on frozen – not fresh – ingredients, uncovered documents show.
Under a Freedom of Information Act request, the Washington D.C. Department of Health revealed to Washington City Paper reporters that nearly 200 dish components at Fig & Olive restaurants are made and supplied from a commissary in Long Island City, New York.
Fig & Olive has eight restaurant locations nationwide in New York, California, Washington D.C. and at 104 East Oak Street in Chicago.
Diagrams demonstrating food preparations sent from Fig & Olive to the Department of Health and uncovered by Washington City Paper detail just how heavily the chefs rely on the cooks in a kitchen thousands of miles away.
For example, the very first step in the instructions to make the restaurant's famed truffle mushroom croquettes (an appetizer running $15 an order on Chicago's menu) reads: "Use frozen mushroom croquette mix from commisary [sic]":
The frozen and pre-made items used by the restaurant include soups, sauces, purees, dressings, desserts, breads, ratatouille, ravioli, crab cakes, pre-cooked chicken tagine, pre-cooked paella, and more, the documents show.
Meaning by the time your $26 risotto reaches your Gold Coast table, it has already been pre-cooked, frozen, shipped across the country, re-heated, garnished and served.
“Even investigators seemed surprised by some recipe shortcuts,” a reporter at Washington City Paper wrote. “In conversations attempting to identify a possible contamination point, a CDC epidemiologist asked a DOH epidemiologist if she [knew] whether Fig & Olive's truffle olive oil aioli was made with raw or pasteurized eggs. The answer was neither. The DOH epidemiologist noted the chef told her he uses Hellmann's mayonnaise instead.”
The contamination referred to was that of a previous salmonella outbreak. At the time, Fig & Olive cited an unnamed third party to blame for the exposure that led to at least 10 cases of the bacterial disease and sickened at least 60 others who ate at their D.C. restaurants, resulting in two lawsuits against the company.
A spokesperson for Fig & Olive responded to the newly released findings of the investigation Wednesday in the following statement to NBC 5:
"Commissaries are routinely used by upscale restaurant groups that serve a high volume of customers to ensure consistency in food quality and service. We had a commissary that was utilized for specific items by our New York outposts and selectively nationwide, which we closed in September 2015. The vast majority of ingredients served at our restaurants are locally sourced from vendors and farms. Currently all of our dishes are prepared in house at each location."
But that didn't stop diners from reacting to the findings on social media: