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Chef Heather Gressett, executive pastry chef at Corner Kitchen and Chestnut in Asheville, N.C., breaks down why sustainability is important to her while offering some useful tips for restaurateurs and chefs.
Here’s Chef Heather: In her own words …
As our planet grapples with the reality of climate change and dwindling resources, every effort counts. Even though I work as the executive pastry chef at two small businesses, this is a high-waste industry so we need everyone doing what they can. That includes big and small business.
Food waste exists at every stage of preparation – from the food that didn’t make the plate and the food that wasn’t eaten to the unused ingredients that eventually go bad. We can make changes every step of the way. This includes our ordering processes as well as preparation, disposal and even the way we put together our menus.
When I worked in Chicago, I was able to see the incredible level of food waste that accompanied one of the most remarkable restaurant cities in the world — a city that also has a lot of people who go hungry. That’s why I helped found the Chicago Bridge Project, which made it possible for excess food that would have gone to waste at these restaurants to be provided to those most in need.
While you don’t need to start a whole nonprofit to help out (though don’t let me stop you if you want to!), there are many other ways chefs and their restaurants can be more intentional on the path toward sustainability.
Help your local economy, farmers, ranchers and other producers while dramatically reducing your carbon footprint. This might impact your seasonal menu, but it’s worth it. At our restaurants we aim to get our ingredients the humane way by supporting organizations and sources that treat workers and animals with minimal environmental impact.
This can be one of the easiest and immediate changes. Start requesting more environmentally friendly options from your shipping and sourcing partners. If they don’t have any available, look into other vendor options. We need latex gloves for health regulations. And those create a lot of waste. So it’s important to find other areas where you can cut.
Educate your customers
Most change is market-driven – so chances are your customers’ habits will be a catalyst. You can have an ideal, but you also have to account for sourcing restraints, health codes, budget, training etc. Make sure customers know what it takes. They need to say: “We will pay a little more for this better thing to be in the world.”
Make a green pledge
There are a variety of certifications and programs that encourage restaurants and other organizations to “go green.” Use them as a starting point. You might already know about composting and paper straws. But there are other tips – like updated LED lighting – that can make your restaurant environmentally friendly. Corner Kitchen is green-certified and Chestnut is in the process of gaining that certification. Trust me when I say it’s worth it.
Choose your battles
Being sustainable takes patience, hard work and requires an intentional assessment of the areas in your restaurant where you can make the most effective changes. Look for openings where you can insert best practices, and always keep your eyes open for new processes and products that will fit into your sustainability plan. Sometimes being sustainable costs money. So pick your battles while still making sure you can serve all customers, pay employees well and be responsible in your operations.
Sustainability isn’t a trend, it’s here to stay.
Do what you can to be more intentionally sustainable and push the needle on both the individual front and toward those broader changes. It’s not just about polar bears on shrinking ice floes that are continents away. It’s on our doorstep. Sustainability affects our lives and economies at home, in our towns and in our kitchens.
We all need to do our part.
Chef Works recently hosted a sustainability discussion panel at the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago.