Recycling cooking oil into biofuel, donating used equipment and growing some of their own food are a few of the ways three New Orleans restaurant and hospitality businesses are shrinking their carbon footprints.
Haley Bitterman, corporate executive chef and director of operations for the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group; Ann Tuennerman, founder of the Tales of the Cocktail festival; and Johnny Blancher, vice president and executive chef Ye Olde College Inn, made up the panel for a discussion on restaurant sustainability efforts at the Louisiana Restaurant Association’s August 2012 trade show in New Orleans.
Here’s how they put five eco-friendly solutions to work:
Plant a garden. The Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group (RBRG), which has experimented with rooftop gardens, is working on a plan to grow herbs in the sculpture garden next to the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park. The produce will flavor dishes at the company’s Café Nola, located inside the museum, and Ralph’s on the Park, an upscale eatery nearby.
The proprietors of Ye Old College Inn purchased several lots across the street from the restaurant and turned them into The College Farm, where they grow a variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs, including sugarcane.
Recycle waste. Chickens at The College Farm don’t just produce fresh eggs for the menu. They feed on kitchen waste and convert it into compost material for the garden. RBRG provides compost for the urban gardens of the nonprofit New Orleans Green Roots, while Tales of the Cocktail (TOTC) donated nearly 16,000 pounds of compost to the Hollygrove Community Garden this year.
TOTC also recycled the cardboard packaging the 5,000 bottles of liquor and 48,000 swag items from the event. Both RBRG and Ye Olde College Inn recycle cooking oil into biofuel.
Conserve resources. RBRG restaurants are washing their dishes green. They installed water-saving spray nozzles that use only a third of the water that conventional models do.
TOTC organizers switched from printing their media kit to providing it on a USB drive before they finally posted it online. The previously printed, 650-page recipe book became a searchable e-book.
Reuse old materials. RBRG turns office paper into waiters’ pads and prints on both sides of memos. They also donate old equipment to local charities.
“For instance, when we closed down Bacco, we reached out to different charities to see who could use the chairs,” Bitterman says. “If we have plate ware that is left over, we try and donate it locally instead of throwing it away.”
Use eco-friendly supplies and equipment. Energy-efficient lighting and environmentally friendly chemicals are two more tools RBRG employs to make its operations more sustainable. But Bitterman admits it’s challenging to raise the green chemicals usage above the current 80 percent.
“We’re having a very hard time finding something eco-friendly that really deals with grease on the floors and in the kitchens,” she says. She also noted that while her company has been able to switch to biodegradable to-go containers, thanks to its volume buying power, for many smaller operations the move is not as affordable.
Tuennerman offered another reason many restaurants haven’t yet made the switch: “I think some of these places order in such bulk that, unfortunately, they have a lot of Styrofoam sitting in the back.”