La Prima Food Group: Forward-thinking Food Service Professionals

La Prima Food Group (La Prima) has been delivering high-quality, fresh food service with a focus on sustainable catering for over 26 years. The Maryland-based company provides full-service catering for corporate events and all other occasions, from a breakfast buffet to a formal dinner meeting. La Prima operates out of six kitchens spanning Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Northern Virginia and Philadelphia.

La Prima has been honored with numerous awards and recognitions over the years. The long list of acclaim includes a fast-track award from the Washington Business Journal and the prestigious Best Menu Award from the National Restaurant Association.

“We do things the right way as far as the environment and community,” shares David Evans, CEO of La Prima. “Our commitment to sustainability is an ongoing effort here.”

Growing Green

La Prima’s sustainability efforts have not only gained national attention, but also recognition by the Green Restaurant Association (GRA). The GRA, a national nonprofit organization, promotes cost-effective ways for restaurants, manufacturers, distributors and consumers to become more environmentally responsible. In 2012 La Prima received three out of four stars for its dedication to grow green.

Evans doesn’t look at the company’s sustainable initiates as challenges; however, he views such as an ongoing commitment to change the way La Prima sources, prepares and disposes of food.

“It’s about changing the way we think and learning better habits,” details Evans. “I’ve had to train my staff to be more conscientious, even if it takes a little more time and energy. For example, they were use to dumping trash and food waste into one container; now we organize everything more specifically. It’s also about choosing options that might not be the most cost-effective, but they’re the right thing to do.”

La Prima has found that one of the best ways to be more sustainable and self-sufficient is through the development of an urban garden. In 2010 the company opened the La Prima garden in College Park, Md.

La Prima now cultivates and harvests its own vine-ripened tomatoes, as well as fresh herbs, such as basil, oregano, thyme and mint. The company also boasts healthy greens, including kale, Swiss chard and braising greens, even watermelons.

The staff harvested over 800 pounds of tomatoes and 100 pounds of basil in summer 2012 – enough to make pesto and pasta sauces year-round. The process runs full circle when food waste and garden clippings are reutilized and composted into nutrient rich soil for next year’s crop.

La Prima even brought sustainability home by growing a wedding. In partnership with Open Brook Farm, the company grew all of the herbs, vegetables and poultry that will be used in one happy couple’s celebration in September 2012.

This recent effort is a great example of the company’s goal of more farm-to-table menus. “We’re really trying to do more farm-to-table options,” shares Evans. “We’re partnering with young farmers to build a local, sustainable cooperative. Our program, Seeds to Celebrations, cooperates with farms to plan menus ahead of time and then place the order to grow. The poultry and animals used were all processed under 48 hours prior to serving.” La Prima is striving to find a way to partner with local farms in a way that’s cost-effective enough to avoid raising prices for customers.

The Healthy Generation

In addition, the company recently entered into a partnership with Groundworks Farm of Pittsville, Md., to bring local, sustainable foods to its customers on a regular basis.

Pasta with white bean tomato sauce, chicken piccata, spinach salad and seasoned beef strips with roasted sweet potatoes: one probably wouldn’t assume these are all off a sample school lunch menu. At La Prima delicious and nutritious is the standard for all of its school clients. The company prepares school menus to meet and exceed the requirements of the National School Lunch Program, balancing dietary needs with exciting options and a wide range of flavors.

Freshness is critical in the preparation of these items, as with any menu at La Prima. Nearly every item is prepared from scratch, including pumpkin risotto, minestrone soup, sweet potato chili and Mexican rice and corn.

“We want to give children food that is as fresh as can be,” explains Evans. “Everything we use is 95 percent fresh ingredients. We want to make sure we use the necessary amount of whole grains and less sodium. We’ve worked with 11 schools so far, and we are looking to grow this market slowly and consistently.”

If chicken nuggets, a school favorite, are on the menu, La Prima begins with boneless chicken breasts, which are both trimmed and cut in-house and then dipped in homemade breading. If there is an instance where the company utilizes a frozen, prepared item, it must be free of additives and high fructose corn syrup.

Since 1987, when Evans was first introduced to the industry through his business partner and co-founder Chuck Manfredonia, La Prima has sought to deliver the best possible dishes to all kinds of customers. “We’re looking forward to the next 25 years ahead,” adds Evans. Through an active commitment to sustainability and forward-thinking food service, La Prima Food Group continues to be one of the catering industry’s most highly regarded companies.