Nation’s Restaurant News’ (NRN) just published their Top 5 Culinary Themes of 2015. They surveyed around 1,300 chefs throughout the U.S. about culinary themes that they thought were important this year. At the top of their list were environmental sustainability and hyperlocal foods; followed by natural/minimally processed foods, food waste reduction, and gluten free products. The big overarching theme: chefs are responding to consumer demand to take better care of the environment and our bodies.
We’ve been thinking about these themes for a long time (in fact, our first newsletter article in 2010 was about sustainability and local food), and it’s great to see these ideas gaining traction on a broader scale. When chefs start talking about and taking action upon these themes, they make it more accessible for the rest of us.
Here are some tips and ideas that chefs and business owners can draw upon to keep up with the trends.
1. Environmental Sustainability
As the NRN article put it, “consumers are devising their own diets, asking questions about where their food comes from, and showing a growing interest in how their dining choices affect the environment.” Here are five ways in which you can incorporate environmental sustainability into your restaurant operation:
- Compost: In a perfect world, you don’t have any food waste in your operation (see trend #4 or how to reduce waste in the first place). The reality/practically is that you probably do. Give food scraps a second life by turning them back into soil by composting. There are several companies in the Boston-area that provide pick-up service including CERO and Save That Stuff.
- Recycle: Outside of food waste, your restaurant probably generates some pretty serious amounts of other waste materials, including cardboard (think of how many produce deliveries you receive each month), paper (all of those POS printouts and menu changes), as well as food and beverage containers. There are well-established recycling programs for all of these materials throughout Massachusetts and participating in them can often help you save money on your disposal expenses. RecyclingWorks can help you start or upgrade your recycling program.
- Use Sustainable Building Materials: If you are building out your restaurant space, you may be able to cut costs by using salvaged or recycled furniture. If you’re buying “new” materials, consider renewable sources, such as bamboo instead of wood.
- Reduce Energy: The goal of becoming carbon-neutral and using only sustainable sources of energy is a worthy one, but can seem daunting. There are many ways to approach this, from using more energy-efficient equipment, to offsetting energy usage and generating on-site renewable clean sources of energy. This also speaks to local food sourcing; the fewer miles the food travels to your door, the lower its (and your) carbon footprint. The Sustainable Business Network provides certification to businesses who take steps in the direction of environmental sustainability. They also provide consulting to help you achieve your maximum positive environmental impact.
- Look for Food Certification: Ideally, you can source your food locally from a farmer or distributor that you know and trust to produce and operate in a sustainable fashion. When you can’t source locally (I wish I could grow a coffee, bananas, and cacao in my backyard), you can rely on foods with environmental certification standards. Some great examples include Rainforest Alliance Certification, Marine Stewardship Council Certification, and Food Alliance Certification.
2. Natural/Minimally Processed Foods
The second most-often cited theme by chefs in the NRN poll was the trend toward “natural” foods. Customers are giving out big “N-O’s” more than ever before when it comes to food with additives and preservatives, and foods that have been highly processed. Unfortunately, there is no federal standard for the word “natural” in the U.S., and less ethical companies tend to greenwash their products using terms like these.
As a restaurateur, you can incorporate more whole/minimally-processed foods into your kitchen by making more from scratch. As an example, we worked with a client to develop recipes for steak sauce and homemade ketchup so they could avoid the processed and HFCS-laden commercial products. And let your customers know that you are sincere in your efforts by educating your staff and incorporating notes on your menu.
3. Hyperlocal Foods
Customers are increasingly demanding locally produced food. Hyperlocal food, or food that is produced on-site or within just a few miles, is another up-and-coming trend in the restaurant industry. There’s something about knowing that the honey in your tea came from the rooftop beehive or that your side salad was harvested minutes prior from the backyard garden next door; customers feel more connected to their food. The more connected your customers feel to their food, the more they associate warm fuzzy feelings with your restaurant. Plus, as a chef, you know it’s fresh.
Looking for hyper-local foods, but don’t want to build or maintain a garden? Consider sourcing from City Growers in Roxbury, The Neighborhood Farm in Dedham, First Root Farm in Concord, or Higher Ground Farm in the Seaport District.
4. Food Waste Reduction/Management
Massachusetts instituted a new food waste ban for any establishment that generates one ton or more of food waste per week. That means that food waste must be diverted from the regular trash stream. Even if you aren’t required by law to divert food waste, it’s a good idea to get started for both environmental reasons, and because stricter regulations for all are likely coming down the pike.
The most straightforward method of diverting food waste is to compost (see theme #1). Beyond that, you can avoid food waste in the first place but implementing better inventory control and learning to utilize the odd bits of food products. Dan Barber demonstrated that carrot tops make a great pesto at his WastED dinner.
5. Gluten-Free Products
Whether it’s allergies, celiac or just a general preference, more and more consumers are requesting gluten-free foods.
You can offer gluten-free options in your restaurant or café. To prevent cross-contamination, have equipment (such as a deep-fryer) dedicated for gluten free items. You can also purchase gluten free products (such as breads, doughs, cakes and cookies) from Glutenus Minimus in Belmont.
Looking to turn your favorite recipe into a gluten free option? We’ve worked with clients to create cakes and breads that fit within the scope of their business and allowed them to continue making everything in-house.
Need more help? Give us a call or drop us a line.