Who would have guessed such a miniscule part of the fine-dining experience could cause such a stir?
It wasn’t concocting the perfect blend of savory herbs to marinate the filet mignon steak, nor was it perfecting the house soup according to an ancient family recipe. It was finding the right straw: One that wouldn’t end up in the trash, where it would be taken to a landfill and contaminate the soil.
“It took over a year and a half to find a company that sold an alternative to plastic straws and when we finally found one, we were the first business on the West Coast to use corn plastic,” says Adam Bernstein, owner and head chef of Adam’s Sustainable Table. “With every decision we make, we first consider how it’s going to impact future generations and the environment around us.”
Bernstein is one of several local restaurant owners who focuses on sustainability and the local food market. From collaborating with local farmers to growing their own produce to researching more environmentally friendly products, these restaurants embody the challenges and accomplishments that come with going green.
The new millennium was a watershed moment for Bernstein, as he decided to re-write his business model with an
emphasis on sustainable practices. Bernstein first looked at how he could make less of an impact on the environment by buying local food to use fewer fossil fuels. He pushed his efforts further to look for all-natural products including paint and utensils, as well as looking for ways to recycle within the building.
Bernstein says guests didn’t notice his efforts had become environmentally friendly until he re-opened the restaurant in February as Adam’s Sustainable Table.
“Words like green, local, organic and natural have become marketing words without substance or ethical sensibility unless you live up to those expectations,” Bernstein says.
Stephanie Pearl Kimmel, founding chef and owner of Marché Restaurant and Café, developed a similar passion for sustainable practices. Her philosophy is derived from the French culinary concept of regionally diverse foods. Kimmel pioneered the idea of seasonal menus that celebrate the abundance of the Willamette Valley when she opened the Excelsior Inn in Eugene in 1972.
When Kimmel opened Marché in 1997, she brought her philosophy to the menu, and from the onset she partnered with local farmers to grow produce.
“We meet in the winter every year and go through seed catalogs to design the menus around what they are going to grow,” Kimmel says.
The result is produce that can’t be found in a supermarket or ordered from distributors, and menu items that are unique to the Willamette Valley.
“It’s shocking to me that we live in this abundant valley but chefs aren’t willing to make the leap and purchase locally grown menu items,” says Kimmel. “We made the choice to provide flavors that support agriculture and the community around us.”
It’s convenient for Kimmel to deal directly with farmers because she is guaranteed a better-quality product and communication is easy.
“It’s fun to introduce customers to food and ingredients that are grown in their backyard by farmers creating food especially for them,” Kimmel says.
Mazzi’s Italian Restaurant and Hideaway Bakery is another establishment that found a unique way to satisfy the local food market: It created its own farm.
Chad Kretschmann works at Mazzi’s Hideaway Bakery, and also works at the restaurant’s farm part-time. The roughly two-acre farm is situated just outside of Eugene, and grows a number of crops for both the restaurant and bakery.
“We don’t have to deal with market fluctuations,” Kretschmann says. “It’s a nice, closed system where we can provide for ourselves.”
Mazzi Ernandes, the owner of Mazzi’s Hideaway Bakery, was a farmer before he opened the bakery. Today, Ernandes still operates the small farm to provide much of the garlic, pesto, basil, vegetables and fruit used by the restaurant and bakery. “Since we harvested huge batches of strawberries and marionberries last summer, we can provide strawberry cake for our customers in the middle of winter,” Kretshmann says. “We couldn’t afford to buy that produce without our farm.”
Kretschmann says local food is used whenever possible at the bakery and restaurant, and he agrees there is a growing customer base for local foods. He says more farms need to realize how much consumer demand there is for locally grown products.
Although each restaurant owner uses different philosophies in business, they all vowed to continue developing their practices despite economic instability in the marketplace. They each agreed that relying on local products and using less fossil fuel creates a more reliable future. [email protected]
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