Among the restaurant trends Food & Wine predicts for 2022 are shrinking menus to minimize waste, hyper-local food sourcing, and more plant-based meals. Those may be very different things, but they all point to one obvious focus: sustainability. It’s a topic at the top of chefs’ minds these days, and increasingly so. Fortunately, it’s not just a trend, either. In fact, some of the best fine-dining restaurants in the U.S. have made sustainability a core tenet of their business, showing that even some of the most luxurious and respected establishments are being created with the earth in mind.
It goes much further than the few famously sustainable restaurants, too. Sure, you’re probably aware of Eleven Madison’s plant-based menu and Le Bernardin’s responsible sourcing. But you may not be aware of the hundreds, possibly thousands of lesser-known but equally worthy restaurants across the country who are also doing their part.
Though it’s sadly impossible to highlight them all, TZR is recognizing a few in honor of Earth Month this April to bring awareness to the many chefs and their teams who are going above and beyond to make the restaurant industry less harmful to the planet. From creating hyper-local menus to putting an emphasis on recycling to decorating with repurposed materials, each one of these fine-dining spots is doing sustainability in their own way — and making d*mn good food while they’re at it.
Seafood restaurant Providence is a well-known Los Angeles establishment — and not just because of its two Michelin stars. The restaurant, helmed by chef and owner Michael Cimarusti, puts sustainability at the forefront — and has for more than 17 years. Its practices include an on-site rooftop garden (which uses recycled water, such as melted ice from the kitchen) with edible flowers, microgreens, and herbs for dishes; a zero-waste, bean-to-dessert chocolate program introduced by pastry chef Mac Daniel Dimla; and a zero-waste cocktail and mocktail menu by bar director Kim Stodel. “Seafood has inspired me in a personal way from the very start,” said Cimarusti in a statement. “It is my duty to staunchly support its conservation and best practices, and it’s my privilege to have the opportunity to showcase it on a nightly basis.”
James Beard-nominated chef and restaurateur Rob Connoley is defying the expectations of the Midwestern dining experience with Bulrush in St. Louis, Missouri. The 42-seat restaurant is “rooted in Ozark cuisine,” and focuses on uncovering and highlighting the history of the area’s food and cultures. That may seem like a pretty big undertaking, but Connoley’s mission doesn’t stop there. Bulrush also aims to be zero-waste, and has implemented a range of practices to ensure its sustainability. Among those are working with seed savers and Missouri farmers to raise and introduce historic and heirloom Ozark seeds; self-foraging to cut food costs and eliminate packaging and fuel waste; and keeping food waste down to about five gallons per week, compared to the 50 per night that’s commonly produced by others.
Earth at Hidden Pond in Kennebunkport, Maine is all about “farm to fork” freshness. The rustic restaurant was born of a vision to embrace the community of farmers and foragers; thus, it sources its meats and seafood locally while also utilizing ingredients from one of two on-site organic gardens. Its love of the land is even reflected within its walls, which were created from trees that were cut to clear the site on which it now sits. Inside, there’s a preserved apple tree infused with lights that serves as the dining room’s main chandelier.
You might think the 100-percent live fire aspect of San Francisco’s Osito restaurant would require all of owner and executive chef Seth Stowaway’s attention, but you’d be wrong. Because while he cooks over entirely, yes, fire (there are no electrical cooking appliances at all), he also makes it a point to keep sustainability in mind. In addition to working with primarily local farms, Stowaway visits the farmer’s market multiple times a week to ensure he only buys what he needs for each day. Other waste-saving activities he practices? Preserving and fermenting products for later use, as well as using whole animals (and using the entirety of them). The chef also only allows upright refrigeration (rather than a walk-in) to cut down on what’s brought into the restaurant. Thought even went into the decor — all wood finishes in the property come from reclaimed, naturally fallen wood or trees.
Award-winning chef Hunter Evans isn’t just creative with his dishes — he’s also full of unexpected ideas for reducing food waste at Elvie’s in Jackson, Mississippi. Using ingredients he personally selects from local farmers and sellers, Evans creates meals that produce as little waste as possible. Some examples? To make Elvie’s lunchtime favorite, “Filet-o-Fish,” the chef uses repurposed fish scraps from the trimming and butchering process. Even his Carrot Top Salsa Verde recipe features carrot tops that would have otherwise been thrown in the trash. And, for the restaurant’s signature Gulf Coast Bouillabaisse, Evans uses bycatch from Gulf Coast fishermen.
Dubbed the “twin brother” to NYC’s Cosme, Damian in Los Angeles describes itself as “rooted in Mexican culture while celebrating seasonal Californian produce.” That’s thanks to chef Jesús “Chuy” Cervantes, who also runs the restaurant with an eco-minded approach. Using local, sustainably sourced seafood is of utmost importance to the chef, who focuses his menu on wild-caught seafood that’s mostly found just off the Pacific Coast. Cervantes works closely with the fishermen to determine seasons and availability, and makes sure to partner with those who implement sustainable fishing practices.
Reducing waste from its restaurant is also integral at Damian; the team aims to throw away as little of the seafood as possible by using bones for stocks, skins for chicharron, and more. Additionally, its to-go containers are biodegradable, its bar does not use plastic, and Damian’s overall design and its water system were created with sustainability in mind.
Harbor House Inn was once recommended to TZR as a great place to stay when visiting the Mendocino coast of California. Yet it’s also a great place to eat, both because of its food (it’s received two Michelin stars) and its eco-conscious ethos (the restaurant has also won a Michelin Green Star). Chef Matthew Kammerer is dedicated to creating original menus with “hyper-local,” foraged ingredients, so his dishes are driven by products found in the inn’s immediate surroundings. So, too, is the decor: As the Michelin Guide reported in 2020, “The tables at the restaurant are whittled from naturally felled Redwood trees, and chopstick rests are fashioned from iridescent abalone shells plucked from icy cold waters nearby.” Kammerer also makes it a point to recycle most things, and focuses on cooking with natural sources of heat, such as steam and fire.
Though it’s one of the most-talked-about restaurants out there, we’d be remiss not to mention Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown, New York. The restaurant by chef Dan Barber is located within a barn that sits on 80-acres, land which it shares with Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. The iconic spot is well-known for its low-waste practices, as well as working with local farmers, and even helping to develop varieties of vegetables and grains that require less energy to produce. Its list of eco-conscious practices goes on (and on), making it no surprise that Blue Hill at Stone Barns has earned a Michelin Green Star (in addition to its two regular Michelin stars) for its far-reaching commitment.