Someone’s in the kitchen with solar power
June 28, 2007
The empty bottles of wine, the old order-up tickets, the used napkins and milk containers; the leftover bones, garnishes and rinds and often, the half-eaten entrée. It’s all on the floor of the kitchen or stuffed in one of seven or eight bags that the busboy will haul to the dumpster in the alley out back.
Gavin Baker remembers nearly quitting the restaurant business after more than a decade of observing the needless waste a substantial threat, given his career. Over the last 12 years, Baker has been the chef at Oceana in New York City, at Chi in Los Angeles Calif., at Park City’s Wahso, and abroad in the Himalayas and on a small island off the coast of Thailand.
His biggest gripe? The 400-pound box of made-to-cook chicken legs he received in some kitchens. It represented hundreds of chickens, many of whom likely had very little life outside of a cage, and more importantly, it was a visual reminder of what had been lost the connection to the farmer that grows the vegetables, the rancher that raises the cattle and the dining experience.
He suspects that the restaurant industry remains wasteful because it’s the standard that’s justified, in large part, by what continues to be a very profitable business despite all the garbage.
"You see a lot of disrespect in the food industry, a lack of passion and a lack of love going into a dish, " he explained "And I felt like if I can’t do it with 100 percent enthusiasm, I don’t want to do it. It reached a point where I was unhappy with what was happening."
A better idea
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Instead of leaving the food industry, however, Baker is pursuing a radical approach.
By November, Baker, and his fiancée Hannah Andrews plan to open their restaurant they will call "Salt" beneath the Rail Central’s clock tower on Bonanza Drive. From the ground up, from solar-powered energy to smaller portions to buying local produce to biodegradable take-out containers, the two intend their endeavor to be utterly sustainable. Baker and Andrews say their goal is to, at most, put one bag of trash in the dumpster.
"It’s about putting love and attention back into it and bringing people back to caring about what they eat and where it comes from," Baker said of "Salt."
Andrews and Baker discussed the concept behind "Salt" when they met at Park City’s Wahso five years ago, but they grew confident about making their dream a reality after living in Europe last year.
"For Europe it’s the norm," he says. "It’s because of population density there they had to deal with sustainability earlier than the U.S."
At a restaurant in London called Acorn House, the couple recalls lemon trees growing on the roof and portions controlled by patrons, who chose from small, medium or large dishes, depending on their appetites.
In England, Baker spent six months working freelance "stage" work at celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants and at the Fat Duck, lauded as "The Best Restaurant in the World" by Restaurant Magazine, and a leader in the new wave food movement "molecular gastronomy," a culinary art that fuses a chef’s creative genius with a chemist’s understanding of ingredients.
At the Fat Duck, Baker cooked alongside five full-time scientists who created a method of encasing a raw egg yoke in liquid hot caramel without hard-boiling its middle and a way to make gelatin hot but not melting, so that it maintains its structure.
It was there that Baker learned about "sous-vide" (French for "under vacuum") slow-cooking a technique that uses five-gallon hot water baths (in laboratories called thermo-immersion circulators) to heat foods sealed in plastic Cryovac packaging at exacting temperatures. "Sous-vide" is a process Baker plans to employ at "Salt," because of the way it maintains the integrity of ingredients and its sustainable properties. Less food is wasted in "sous-vide" cuisine, because food is never over cooked. Baker says with the baths, he can control temperature plus or minus one degree.
Baker and Andrews say they decided to return to the states to open their restaurant among their sophisticated and eco-savvy friends in Park City, where they see a demand for organic and sustainable living.
It takes a community
Blake Spalding, co-owner of Hell’s Backbone Grill, has run her sustainable restaurant in Boulder, Utah for eight years, and has made the five-hour trip north to the new Park Silly Sunday Market twice.
"There isn’t a lot of support in this country for sustainable practice in the food industry, but a sustainable restaurant would do well in Park City, because there’s a great level of awareness," she says.
She surmises 95 percent of restaurants in the United States purchase items such as pre-chopped onions from large food companies to save money. The price is more affordable, Spalding claims, because workers who grow, chop and ship the items are paid at the lowest pay possible. Like made-to-order hamburgers, pre-prepared foods for high-end restaurants just one of many iterations of fast food, according to Spalding.
At Hell’s Backbone Grill, by contrast, no staff is paid "anywhere close" to minimum wage, she says, adding "we treat our staff like gold."
Speaking from experience from her farm to her kitchen and wait staff at Hell’s Backbone Grill, she says on top of choosing reusable or biodegradable containers and serving draft beer instead of bottled, the heart of sustainability is about building relationships with communities and sharing the knowledge.
"We were really passionate about using our restaurant to educate people about their food choices and to let people viscerally experience the taste of our region," Spalding says. "It’s important that we endeavor to take sustainability to a deep level from the earth to the table."
Sustainability for all
Baker predicts his "defiant" act, eschewing typical restaurant practices and employing sustainable practices in their stead will soon become the new norm, because it will be too expensive to run a restaurant that wastes.
While planning for "Salt," Baker consulted Park City’s Recycle Utah, who is working also on a community-wide initiative with restaurants.
Lola Beatlebrox, Recycle Utah’s outreach coordinator, says July 12, she will be meeting with area restaurateurs and retail shop owners to discuss recycling. Currently, there is little recycling on Main Street, she says, and she hopes to encourage all stores to use sustainable packaging e.g. eliminating all Styrofoam, which she says takes thousands of years to decompose in landfills.
Beatlebrox applauds Baker for his foresight and resourcefulness, and has been spreading the good word on "Salt."
"Gavin’s really way ahead of his time here," she said. "He’s teaching me more than I’m teaching him."
Baker and Andrews are asking the community to help make Salt as sustainable as possible. As a thank you for submitting ideas, Salt will enter names into a drawing for a complimentary dinner for four. Submit all sustainability ideas to Chef Gavin Baker’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org by July 15. To be included in the drawing for a complimentary dinner, include your name, address and telephone number.
Salt’s sustainable cuisine
*Portion size: instead of the standard 10-15 ounce dish, Salt plans to limit portion sizes to three to five ounces a plate, helping to eliminate food waste.
*Pulp to compost: a "pulper" or "insinkerator" out-disposes a garbage disposal by chewing wet food waste, plastic and paper into compost for use in gardens and farms.
*Mini-freeze: Salt Executive Chef and owner Gavin Baker says large freezers quickly become storage closets, wasting energy. Salt’s freezer will be just large enough for homemade ice cream, he says.
*Tentative Menu to stay local: organic steak tartar, heirloom tomato salad, slow-roasted beets with goat’s cheese, spicy grilled eggplant with curried yogurt and Morgan Valley Lamb Prime Rib with Corn Pudding.
*Garde Manager: Salt will include this classical French kitchen position with duties specific to cold hors d’oeuvres, salads and charcuterie items, to lend an added emphasis to its vegan and raw food dishes.
*Every part counts: Baker plans to use a meat saw to cut chicken and beef bones for stock in his soups.
*Kitchen in the round: Baker’s blueprints for his kitchen buck the tradition of linear kitchens, and instead place him at the center of operations. Divided into "fire" and "ice," he will split operations into cold foods and warm. The arrangement will allow him to plate dishes himself and to hire less staff at higher salaries. Baker says the kitchen will be exposed to lend credibility to his sustainability credo.
*Recycled heat: the kitchen’s stove will use fallen timber to heat dishes.
*"Sous-vide" cooking: French for "under vacuum" cooking, this method employs hot baths (in laboratories called "thermo immersion circulators") that slow cook foods sealed in plastic Cryovac sheaths at exact temperatures. Using this technique, temperature is controlled to the degree, the integrity of the ingredients is maintained and less food is wasted.
*Digitized heat: a "combi-oven" will allow Baker to use computer technologies to bake, roast and steam at exact times, also reducing food waste.
*"No jet-lagged veggies": Baker is currently fostering relationships with local growers and ranchers within 50 to 75 miles of Park City, including the Colby School and Morgan Valley Lamb. Shipping locally reduces Salt’s carbon footprint the amount of greenhouse gas used significantly.
In the dining room
*All for one: Hannah Andrews, who will serve as Salt’s general manager, plans to have servers join kitchen staff on field trips to farms, to give servers a better appreciation and understanding of the food served. Andrews says the wait staff will likewise be rolling up their sleeves to wash vegetables in the kitchen.
*Sustainable staff: Servers and kitchen staff will be offered year-round employment at a living wage.
*Green takeout: carryout items from Salt will have bio-degradable containers, cutlery and napkins.
*Ticket less: while a receipt will still be printed to be signed by patrons, the orders to the kitchen will be computerized, eliminating "order up" tickets in the kitchen.
*Sun power: photo voltaic cells will generate energy for the restaurant, which will seat 136 diners inside and 40 outside. According to Baker, this will also cut energy costs by 75 percent within the first year.
*To the recycling center, and not the alley: At the end of the night, an energy-efficient golf cart will haul recyclables to the Recycle Center on Woodbine Way, across the street from Salt.