Worried that your favorite dining haunts leave a big, fat carbon footprint? Take heart. Boston-area chefs are embracing green-movement technology on several fronts. It might be trendy, but it also happens to be moral. (Can the same be said for the tall-food movement?)
Several local spots follow guidelines promoted by the Green Restaurant Association (GRA), a national nonprofit group dedicated to supporting eco-friendly eating out. The GRA specifies everything from appropriate take-out packaging to energy-saving strategies.
“Working in restaurants for years and seeing the waste that occurs, it's almost sickening,” says Jim Solomon, chef and owner of the Fireplace, in Brookline. “The green thing has really exploded over the past year.” The Fireplace has replaced its takeout packaging with biodegradable options and upgraded its refrigerators to more energy-efficient models.
“It's just the right thing to do,” agrees Michael Leviton, executive chef at Lumière in West Newton. Lumière is GRA certified, and while Leviton's new location, Persephone, in South Boston, is not, he strives to maintain the same integrity at both locations. Sustainably sourced supply guidelines are good for your conscience and your palate, he insists.
“In order to present the best possible food on the plate, that requires the best possible ingredients,” he says. “That means knowing how it was raised, knowing where it came from, and getting it as fresh as possible, which leads you to [buy] locally, sustainably, humanely, and organically.”
Not every restaurant observing green practices bothers with the GRA certification process, but benefits are evident for those who do, says Leviton. Industry-wide, the organization advocates for change with national players, he explains. While it’s one thing for small, independent locations to go for green goals, big change really results as larger chains adopt the practices too.
Matt Reiser, Upstairs on the Square's wine director, who has spearheaded the Harvard Square hot spot's green initiatives, agrees. “We had no idea how much work it could possibly be,” he says. “I cannot imagine how someone could take a restaurant green without that guidance; [the GRA] really [is] the saving grace to getting this done.”
Howard Leibowitz, executive director of the Boston Public Market Association — which coordinates the city's farmer's markets — aims to ascertain the best way to supply restaurants with local food. The association met with top Boston chefs at Henrietta's Table this past February, and determined that while many restaurants wish to retain current supplier relationships, a desire exists for local specialty food and fish sourcing. Restaurateurs expressed concern, however, with transportation options, not wanting to drive to many local farms.
“My sense is that the next frontier is the ‘neighborhood’ restaurants and creating delivery options for them,” says Leibowitz. “The next step might be to find a group of restaurants in one neighborhood; South End and JP come to mind.”
Going green isn’t always immediately cost-efficient, especially in the nascent stages of these initiatives. Leviton says his recyclable menu and paper replacements cost more now, for example, as do new cleaning chemicals. But bigger savings are possible — switching from standard kitchen bulbs to compact fluorescent ones can save you $2000 a year, he says.