6 ways to keep a sustainable kitchen operation

Angelo G. Garcia

Posted at Nov 06 2019 01:26 PM

(From right) Nowie Potenciano, Peggy Chan, and Myke Sarthou talk about sustainability at the recent event Conversations Over Coffee. Photo by author


MANILA -- Restaurants today are not only required to produce good food but also comply with what the modern world demands. And as the sustainability movement continues to get traction across the globe, more businesses, including the food service sector, are shifting to greener operations. 

However, going green goes beyond replacing plastic straws with paper, because it covers the whole operations and the food and beverage system as a whole. It also involves the private sector, government, and consumers. 

This topic was discussed at a recent talk during the Asian Culinary Exchange. Called Conversations Over Coffee by Nespresso, the event gathered industry professionals from across Asia to talk about important issues in the industry. 

One of the talks tackled environmental responsibility and the panel included chef Peggy Chan of Nectar, Hong Kong; chef Myke “Tatung” Sarthou of Talisay Garden Cafe in Quezon City; and Nowie Potenciano, owner of the Sunny Side Cafe Group in Boracay.

The three panelists shared practices in their own kitchens and helpful ideas how restaurants can operate sustainably as this creates a bigger impact than most people think, since it actually lessens emissions of greenhouse gasses (GHG) for businesses and consumers. 

Chef Chan owns and operates Nectar in Hong Kong, a restaurant that serves plant-based or vegan dishes. The restaurant is known for its green practices like creating minimal to no food waste at all in making dishes. 

“What we did three years ago was to measure the impact that we were creating by doing all these things. I got really curious so I started to do a lot of research and found Zero Foodprint, an NGO based in San Francisco. The whole idea is try to track how much carbon our decisions as chefs whether how we source or how we decide to dispose certain ingredients, would actually affect the carbon emission of every single diner. Really, the accountability is being brought back to the chefs, the decision makers, the owners as well as the consumers,” Chan shared. 

What they discovered is that because of their green practices, each diner at their restaurant emits 65 percent less greenhouse gasses compared if they dine at other restaurants. 

“Once you have that number, the measurement impact, you can bring that to other restaurants and lead them this is what you can do to reduce this much amount of GHG,” she said. 

1. EDUCATE THE STAFF

Chefs can lead a greener kitchen if all the staff are well-informed. And according to Sarthou, restaurants need to invest in education. 

“If you're a chef and you have that consciousness but you really don't know what your people are doing like the way they trim the vegetables, they don't store the shrimp in the right temperature, all of the basic stuff. Especially in the Philippines, we deal with a lot of untrained kitchen staff. There are practical reasons why you can't get the best people but you really have to invest in a lot of training. It's about teaching your staff how their actions will affect everything, not just the environment but also the sustainability of the business itself,” he said.

2. AVOID PLASTIC

The easiest sustainable practice is by removing all single-use plastic. However, this is easier to do in front operations than in the kitchen. The kitchen uses plastics especially plastic wraps in storing and covering food. 

“Even before the island closed, we tried to reduce the amount of single-use plastics that we consume. For example, the straws we replaced them with metal straws. Then we moved to paper straws for takeaway, now we have rice straws that are fully biodegradable. Even at the back of the house, we made a conscious effort to try harder. It was a change of mindset for our cooks and our staff. Now, we have reduced around 60 percent in the use of single-use plastics in the kitchen by using resealable containers,” Potenciano said. 

Today, more biodegradable products are being released in the market giving more chefs and restaurateurs options what they can use in their daily operations. 

3. SOURCE RESPONSIBLY

One of the best practices in sustainability is sourcing food locally -- the closer the better. Getting ingredients from abroad creates a bigger carbon footprint due to the long shipment process. 

“There are some suppliers, some farmers in the Philippines, who are rising to the challenge. Very recently, there was a lot of controversy about rice sourcing, our farmers are not making enough. I think there are two or three groups connecting people who would consciously buy rice from these farmers,” Potenciano said.

Being located on an island is extra tough for Potenciano's group of restaurants but they have made an effort to source most of their ingredients locally. Like instead of Angus beef, they now use Kitayama beef from Bukidnon. 

4. CONTROL THE INVENTORY

One of the best way to reduce food waste is controlling the inventory or the volume of supplies used in the kitchen. Buying bulk may save money but more food means more waste. 

“One of the reasons why we don't have any food wastes is because we order very little. Because our inventory is made up of fresh produce, literally every week we're turning two to three times of produces. I think we are taught to buy in bulk so that it saves you a little money but with chefs doing a 50-seat restaurant, I don't think we need to go that way. Even when you're shopping for your home, find ways to reduce your purchase,” Chan said. 

CChan's restaurant is known for its zero waste dishes like carrot dumplings and a banana cake that uses banana flour made from milled whole dried bananas (including peel). 

“We cold-press juice carrots and whatever is left of it—the pulp—we cook it with Chinese celery, mushrooms and such and that becomes a part of the filling and surprisingly it's very delicious and very meaty as well,” she shared. 

5. CREATE A GREENER MENU

More restaurants are now offering vegetarian and vegan options and serving plant-based dishes actually lessens a restaurant's carbon footprint. Animal farming (cattle, pigs, poultry, etc.) is a big contributor to greenhouse gasses. 

“When we first opened in 2012 the Grasroots Pantry, the whole idea is to create a platform to raise awareness and how do we actually practice sustainability within the food and beverage system. As we know, all of those practices are extremely crucial in addition to shifting our menu a little bit towards to less meat and more plants. As raising meat is extremely carbon intensive,” chef Chan said. 

6. FREEZE AND FERMENT

Another way to lessen food waste is to ferment and culture. Fermenting is a traditional way to save food for future use, especially vegetables. Pickling is also another way and freezing vegetable trimmings instead of throwing them out is another worthy idea. The trimmings can be used to make vegetable stock. 

“It's very easy to ferment and culture things or even to freeze your food waste and use it as broth. Any kind of trimmings you have freeze it up,” Chan said.