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National Restaurant Association - NRA Show plants sustainability's seeds

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NRA Show plants sustainability's seeds

Educating operators on how to incorporate sustainable business practices topped the agenda at NRA Show sessions from the National Restaurant Association’s Conserve Sustainability program.

The educations sessions offered tips, tools and expert advice from operators on sourcing local foods , developing an effective composting plan, designing a sustainable restaurant and practicing energy efficiency.

“If we are going to be successful in recruiting people to become more [invested in] practicing sustainability, we’ve got to be in line with their priorities,” Jim Hanna, Starbucks’ director of environmental affairs, said in a session on zero waste. He said some drivers for implementing sustainability programs in restaurants include:

  • The desire to reduce carbon footprint.
  • To increase employee pride.
  • Appeal to customer expectations.
  • Lower operating cost.

Local sourcing of foods and ingredients

Another sustainable practice continuing to gather momentum is the local sourcing of foods and ingredients. At a seminar on integrating local farming strategies, Ryan Stone, executive chef for Centerplate’s Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco, said consumers today have an even greater understanding of and expectation for local sourcing of food products.

“We’re seeing an even greater awareness of the importance of local sourcing,” he said. “We’ve literally got hundreds of farmers’ markets the public looks at, and stores, like Whole Foods, that promote the sourcing of the products they sell. I think more and more people are going to ask for that and it will continue to grow. It also, in trying to educate people on why they’re paying $2 or $3 more for something because it is local, will make my job easier.”

Stone and co-panelist Zak Dolezal, chef of Duke’s Alehouse and Kitchen in Crystal Lake, Ill., offered ideas on how to start sourcing locally. They suggested:

  • Visiting farmers markets.
  • Looking at labels of everything at the grocery store.
  • Communicating with local chefs’ associations and check who they may be partnering with.
  • Seeking out restaurants that may list the suppliers they use on their menus.
  • Contacting local growers’ associations.
  • Locating cheese-makers’ guilds and farmers’ organizations.

Purchasing efficient equipment

Richard Young, senior engineer and director of education at the Food Service Technology Center in Santa Rosa, Calif., said purchasing efficient equipment was the best thing operators can do to create sustainable kitchens.

“A lot of today’s commercial kitchens are the same post-war, late 1940s type of kitchens,” he said. But “a lot of [the technology] hasn’t evolved that much. So, what will the kitchens of the future look like? Well, the first thing we’d like to do is move from the standard, overbuilt one-of-everything kitchen to an energy-wise [model].”

To create an efficient kitchen, Young said:

  1. Adopt best-in-class technology.
  2. Install technology such as induction cooking equipment, combination ovens and high efficiency fryers.

“Design decisions really make sense,” he said. “The decisions you make regarding equipment can affect your bottom line. They really can put money in your pocket.”

McCormick's rooftop garden

In addition to this year’s eight sustainability sessions and numerous products on display at the Conserve Solutions Center, the Show also highlighted the half-acre rooftop garden at McCormick Place West (where the conference was held), which provides fresh produce for Savor, the contract foodservice company that handles foodservice operations for the venue.

The garden, which is cared for by Windy City Harvest, is part of a partnership program between the Chicago Botanic Garden and Richard J. Daley College.

Photos: Top right, from left, are local sourcing experts Ryan Stone, Zak Dolezal and John Sergi; center, left, is Richard Young of the Food Service Technology Center; Bottom, left, is the rooftop garden tour at McCormick Place in Chicago

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