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Top Chefs Embrace Sustainable Kitchens — Saving Energy and the Planet Through Food

BY // 11.10.16

As environmental issues like global warming, water and air pollution, climate change, and plant and animal extinction continue to plague the globe, the pressure to find revolutionary sustainability is heavier than ever. Scientists and politicians are no longer the only groups touting an eco-friendly agenda with a bevy of social influencers now helping lead the charge.

Just look at Jessica Alba, who transitioned from actress to business mogul with a billion dollar business dedicated to eco-friendly products — The Honest Company. Then there’s Leonardo DiCaprio, who released Before the Flood last month — a documentary chronicling the dangers of climate change and possible solutions.

And it’s not just celebrities adopting eco-conscious evolution. With quality restaurant food a mainstay in popular culture, chefs across the world are transforming their kitchens and menus, adopting sustainable practices that end up stretching beyond their kitchens. Led by chef Ben Shewry, Melbourne-based restaurant Atticus — the 33rd ranked restaurant in the world — is pushing for social change through a menu solely executed with sustainable ingredients.

“People might not think cooks matter in the grand scheme, but it’s my experience that a lot of stuff filters down. There’s about 200,000 downloads of our menu on our website, but there’s nowhere near that amount of people coming here. That tells me that people aren’t just looking at our menu because they’re thinking about planning a dinner here, but they’re looking at our menu for inspiration, whether that be at another restaurant or just at home,” Shewry says in a New York Times documentary.

“This small piece of literature with these eight courses on it has a massive influence on people. Therefore, if I had ingredients which were unsustainable or of negative impact to the environment, then I’m contributing to that damage, and I don’t want that on my conscience.”

Then there’s Copenhagen’s Relae helmed by chef Christian Puglisi, who is the two-time recipient of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Sustainable Restaurant Award. Not only is Relae the world’s only Michelin-starred certified organic restaurant, but Puglisi and co-owner Kim Rossen have developed their own organic farm equipped with produce as well as cows, pigs, and chickens that service the restaurant’s beef, pork, and chicken dishes.

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Puglisi’s unwavering commitment to sustainability doesn’t stop at the food. The restaurant utilizes aprons hand-sewn in Denmark that are crafted with high-tech, dirt and water repellent fabrics, which limit wash times, and restaurant inventory such as naturally-leavened, organic sourdough bread is delivered by bike.

Famed restaurants aren’t the only outposts relying on sustainable cooking practices. An energy company is even getting involved. Direct Energy has launched a Direct Your Dining cooking series, which introduces customers to energy-efficient recipes and cooking tips that work to further reduce one’s electricity bill.

The company’s energy-reducing cooking methods include one-skillet dinners such as these fall-inspired stuffed pork chops which utilize only one appliance during meal prep. Or try this pumpkin and pecan breakfast bake recipe. Other options eliminate the use of heat altogether, like going with a fall meat & cheese board for entertaining

All of this helps reduce energy use and cuts electricity costs while helping the planet.

the perrenial
The Perennial, San Francisco

Back stateside, San Francisco-based restaurant The Perennial is regarded by many as America’s (and maybe even the world’s) most sustainable eatery. There is an on-site aquaponic greenhouse, 100-percent recycled fiber rugs, reclaimed lumber, clay plates, and re-used silverware. Co-owner Anthony Myint runs ZeroFoodprint, a non-profit that helps restaurants reduce their carbon footprint.

But sustainable kitchens aren’t limited to internationally acclaimed companies and chefs. The Texas food scene is also busy making its mark with environmental innovation — and energy saving initiatives.

Nestled in a quaint house in Montrose at 412 West Clay Road, Pat Greer’s Kitchen is churning out gourmet, plant-based dishes and snacks using sustainable, local ingredients. You may recognize chef Greer’s signature kombucha bottles from restaurants such as Local Foods, and a bevy of snack options which includes Geez-its — her riff on the popular Cheez-It cracker brand.

Greer opened her cafe shop in 2000 with a mission to deliver healthy, responsibly-sourced food to the masses. Once a dilapidated drug den, Greer repurposed the charming Clay Road abode where her storefront now sits. A bountiful garden spans the residence’s petite front yard as guests enter.

The produce grown on-site is used throughout the shop’s inventory, which includes everything from pre-prepared salads and garden burgers to cookies and cakes — all vegan, of course.

“I don’t believe in waste. Sometimes when we have a lot of a particular ingredient left over, we try to repurpose it,” Greer explains. “That’s how we came up with our Geez-its. We had a ton of our pimento cheese spread, and we just couldn’t throw it away.”

In addition to reducing waste, Greer utilizes utensils and containers made with recycled materials, regularly composts, and rarely uses any heated cooking methods, which is more friendly for the environment.

“We all can do our part to contribute to the movement. If you have extra green space, why not plant a garden; or patronize your local farmer’s market. Not only does it drive money into the local economy, but the produce has a shorter travel time, thus lessening the environmental impact,” says Greer.

Of course, sustainability comes in an array of forms. For F.E.E.D. TX restaurant group, its fourth Liberty Kitchen location — at The Treehouse development in Memorial City — occupies some of the most eco-friendly digs in town. Aptly named, the Metro National-owned development was fashioned with sustainability at its core, boasting the highest eco-ranking in Texas and the second highest in the nation.

“I’ve always wanted to design and build an eco-friendly space, so what better opportunity to be able to do that than inside of a LEED Double Platinum building,” says F.E.E.D TX partner Carl Eaves, who designed the restaurant’s interiors. “It was exciting to have the chance to design the interior space in a building that’s second in the nation and first in Texas.”

The building was built with a variety of sustainable construction techniques and is outfitted with a high thermal-performance envelope, energy recovery HVAC systems and windows allowing natural light in more than 80 percent of the building’s floor area.

“Working on the Treehouse gave me the extra push to search out as many recycled and sustainable materials as possible. We used rough hewn lumber that we milled for wall cladding and decorative trim. The floors are reclaimed from a 100-year-old cotton mill in Houston, and our bead board siding is from Victorian houses in the Houston Heights. I chose Austin Limestone milled in Sealy, Texas for the patio flooring and the massive wood-burning grill was fabricated in Dripping Springs. About 80 percent of the tables, booths and metal work are custom made by Houston area artisans,” Eaves says.

Brick-and-mortar outposts aren’t the only culinary businesses contributing to Houston’s environmental efforts. While most food trucks are equipped with commercial cooking equipment, two area-food trucks are using alternate methods to further reduce their carbon footprint.

We try to source our meats and veggies locally as often as we can. Before every Saturday morning farmers market, we buy our eggs from Hattermann’s and vegetables from a variety of local farmers including Atkinson, Gundermann, Plant It Forward, and Veggie Kings. We also like to work with Black Hill Meats during the week,” says Rani Francis, owner of Oddball Eats — a Mediterranean-centric food truck stationed at Urban Harvest’s Saturday farmers market. 

“We also recycle packaging that we use on the truck, and we store food in washable containers. The food we serve to customers is served in compostable containers made out of recycled paper or sugarcane. We try to minimize waste by constantly focusing on not over-purchasing or over-preparing perishable goods.”

Ripe Cuisine’s Stephanie Hoban (photo by Kelli Durham)

For Stephanie Hoban — a natural foods chef, registered dietician, and owner of Ripe Cuisine — her food truck’s sustainability begins with the food itself.

“For starters, we don’t use any meat, which already limits our impact on the environment. Animal agriculture is one of the leading contributors to global warming, so we’re definitely doing our part in that way,” said Hoban.

The truck’s tight quarters have limited some of Hoban’s sustainability goals like composting and use of eco-friendly appliances, but she’s not taking no for an answer.

“I’m working on transitioning to a brick-and-mortar location within the next year, and I definitely want to make the space as environmentally friendly as possible. Composting is definitely coming soon,” Hoban says.

Looking to make your own energy-saving difference? Direct Energy, the rare energy company that helps its customers use less energy, gives its customers access to an online dashboard (dubbed Direct Your Energy) that breaks down your energy use by appliance and system. It also puts a percentage on just how energy efficient (or not) your home truly is.

With that, one can be a good environmental citizen and save money on their electricity bill. For more information on Direct Energy’s plans, click here.

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