Greening the Restaurant Industry

1924046_86106990310_8178_nFebruary 21, 2017 – Restaurant industry folks gathered at Montrio Bistro last week to hear chef Soerke Peters—president of the American Culinary Federation Monterey Bay Chapter—answer the question: “Why green your restaurant?”

Eager to be privy to the discussion were chefs from local restaurants, chefs that head up food services at regional hospitals, vineyard owners, food writers, food purveyors, food producers, and even staff members from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. Chef Tony Baker of Montrio Bistro, the Green Restaurant Association (GRA) and Wrath Wines were also involved in the event.

Chef Peters led the way locally by making Basil Seasonal Dining, in Carmel, the Monterey Bay area’s first certified green restaurant. While he acknowledged that becoming a certified green restaurant takes effort and time, he also shared something that his grandmother instilled in him, “It’s never wrong to do the right thing.”

And, according to the GRA, it’s the right thing for restaurants to become more environmentally sustainable in seven different categories – water efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, sustainable furnishing and building materials, sustainable food, energy, disposables, and chemical and pollution reduction.

Founded in 1990, the GRA is an international not-for-profit organization that is an authoritative voice in the Green Restaurant® conversation. By following its certification guidelines restaurants are awarded points for everything from cleaning products that meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Choice or EcoLogo standards to menu offerings that include at least one vegetarian entrée, use produce that is certified organic, or source regional and sustainable seafood. The number of points a restaurant logs leads to its star rating. Basil Seasonal Dining holds a 3-star rating, while Montrio Bistro has just received its 2-star rating.

DSC_0008As consumers become increasingly aware of environmental sustainability, restaurant owners must also grow environmentally conscious and seek ways that their businesses can go green. The challenge is aligning social responsibility with the bottom line. Chef Peters asserted that becoming a certified green restaurant was, in the long run, a way to save money, increase customers, increase staff morale, and stay ahead of legislation.

While many assume that making the shift to being a green restaurant will be pricey and inconvenient, Peters countered that embracing sustainable practices can end up saving money. He offered an example from his own restaurant of transitioning from a single grey garbage bin destined for the landfill, to three bins: a smaller grey bin;  a blue bin for recycling plastic and glass; and a yellow bin for composting. “It took some re-training for the staff, but it ended up being a 60% savings. And saving money means making money.”

DSC_0017Between topics, chef Tony Baker, who has recently achieved a 2-star Certified Green Restaurant rating at Montrio, treated attendees to four deliciously prepared courses. The menu included Lamb Merguez Sausage over Baba Ganoush with Roasted Peppers; Roasted Beet Salad with Hazelnut Dukkah; Mary’s Air-Chilled Chicken with Crispy Baker’s Bacon, Fondant Potato, Local Asparagus over a Cauliflower-Leek Puree with Walnut Cream; and White Chocolate Bread Pudding and Passionfruit Ice Cream.

Providing the wine pairing for the dinner was Wrath Wines, which holds a Sustainability in Practice (SIP) certification. Being SIP-certified assures consumers that the winemaker has demonstrated a dedication to protecting and preserving resources and adheres to rigorous standards that includes independent verification and transparency in practice.

As dessert was being carried out, chef Baker joined chef Peters at the front of the room to echo his sentiments about certification. “It’s about inspiring people to be better. I want to make everything transparent so people know exactly what we’re doing. Consumers want to be informed. It’s good for them. It’s good for the environment. How great is that?” he asked.

In the end, chef Baker insisted, “It’s not about the buzz words. It’s not about marketing. It’s about doing.”

“Absolutely,” chef Peters agreed. “Changes chefs make can drive the conversation.” And the conversation revolves around the positive impact that restaurants can make on the environment.

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