Sustainable Food

Sustainable foodservice begins with the food, literally. This means all members of the farming community — small, medium and large growers — need to adhere to sustainable agriculture practices, Turenne says. In fact, he adds, some of the main sources of energy, water and gas depletion, not to mention waste, stem first from agriculture and large-scale food and meat production.

While research from the Food Service Technology Center shows buildings with kitchens use five times the water and energy per square foot that average buildings use, agriculture has an even stronger impact. With a workforce of 1.3 million people, agriculture (namely, food production) accounts for roughly 10 percent of the country's energy use, and on average, a third of all human-produced greenhouse gas emissions around the globe (between 25 percent and 40 percent), according to a report by the Global Harvest Initiative.

"The planet is literally suffering because of the environmental impact that our current food production has," says Turenne. And that means foodservice businesses will suffer from escalating energy, water, waste and food costs if the industry does nothing to turn things around.

Seasonal Food

One key attribute to sustainable food sourcing is buying ingredients on a seasonal basis. That means many chefs, foodservice directors and other operators continue to alter their purchasing patterns to intentionally buy produce items, for example, only during their natural seasons. That might mean purchasing tomatoes at the peak of their season in the summertime, but switching to other produce during the wintertime, tomatoes' off-season.

At Nellcôte in Chicago, for example, chef Jared Van Camp buys heirloom tomatoes from a nearby Amish farm during the summertime when they are at the peak of their season and then processes the extras into a paste. He freezes the paste for use on pizzas during the colder months when fresh tomatoes are hard to come by.

At Vie in Western Springs, Ill., chef Paul Virant spends weeks in the summer months boiling water, vinegar, salt, sugar and spices to pickle vegetables for future use. And, in Cleveland, Jonathon Sawyer, chef-owner of the Greenhouse Tavern makes his own barrel-aged vinegar from red and white wines and even seasonal beer, using large oak barrels and plenty of cool cellar storage space. Imagine a day when humidity-controlled storage rooms for vinegars, wines, cheeses and other special foods will replace the dry storage rooms we now use for processed foods.

This certainly impacts foodservice equipment needs and the way newly constructed kitchens are laid out, says Scott Reitano, FCSI, principal of the Foodservice Solution Group, a consulting firm. For example, at the newly redesigned Ivy Tech Community College in Bloomington, Ind., the culinary school showcases state-of-the-art blast chillers, shock freezers and long-term storage freezers intended specifically to store large amounts of seasonal produce — harvested and delivered at the peak of their season — so that they can be enjoyed year-round.

"There are blast chillers with a shock-freeze setting that uses microcrystals versus macrocrystals for longer-term storage and to prevent that wateriness that comes from thawing fruits and vegetables frozen in more traditional ways," Reitano says. "I tried an apple from one of these freezers two months later, and it tasted great, still crunchy and not mushy at all."