You only need to look at one piece of the food cycle to realize how closely the system is interwoven with broader ecological concerns. Take waste: The amount of food thrown away each year is staggering. The CO2 which that food eventually creates in the USA alone is double that of all road traffic. Let that one sink in for a sec: The food that you’re trashing is causing more CO2 than your CO2 belching car.
It’s not surprising, then, to discover that making the restaurant industry more sustainable is mammoth task. Along every part of the cycle you’ll find people working to reduce waste and increase sustainability. There are agricultural and aqua-cultural programs focused on better using soil and plants; food waste advocacy groups who aim to inform the public and repair our bad habits; and chefs striving to create kitchens that rectify the bad practices of the past.
When we talk about sustainable chefs, we don’t mean the ones who tell their servers not to pour ice water unless you ask. We’re talking about renegades who grow herbs on the roof, re-engineer kitchens to be fossil fuel free, and train staff to fight the good fight. Below you’ll find a few of our favorite sustainability-game changing chefs around the world:
Jonathan Tam, Relæ — Copenhagen, Denmark
Relae was just awarded the World’s Most Sustainable restaurant from the World’s 50 Best Restaurants and shortly thereafter Chef Jonathan Tam took over as head chef from Chef Christian Puglisi. Chef Tam started at the infamously popular NOMA before becoming a founding member of Relae. He cites “curiosity” as the driving force behind his journey as a chef and his restaurant benefits from his continued curious nature.
Tam and co. continue to up the game for everyone else when it comes to sourcing real food and utilizing every aspect of it. Relae has its own organic farm — raising both vegetables and proteins — and their biodynamic wine is delivered by bicycle.
Alex Atala, D.O.M — São Paulo, Brazil
Chef Alex Atala is perhaps Brazil’s most important chef right now. He’s fighting for Amazonia rights, indigenous food cultures, and feeding the needy by repurposing throw away food. He’s a busy man, and his flagship resto, D.O.M, is poised to climb to the top of the World’s 50 Best sooner rather than later.
Basically, you’re going to be hearing a lot more from Chef Atala and indigenous Amazonian food cultures in the next years.
Massimo Bottura, Osteria Francescana — Modena, Italy
Chef Massimo Bottura is on top of the world right now. Osteria Francescana has just been crowned the World’s Best Restaurant. His program for repurposing throw away food to feed the needy has been a success in Italy and Brazil during the Olympics (with the help of Chef Alex Atala).
Chef Bottura is leading the charge for all chefs to reconsider what food waste is and how to deal with it a positive and nourishing manner that benefits us all.
Jamie Oliver, various — Worldwide
Say what you will about Chef Jamie Oliver‘s homogeny of recipes (really, he’s just making recipes acceptable to different palates which allow one a gateway to those food cultures, all of which is a net positive), the reality remains that Chef Oliver has devoted his life to sustainability, food quality, and food access around the world. The awards he’s won for his endeavors towards making his restos more sustainable and improving food sourcing for the general public are too long to list here.
What sets the man apart is his desire to make sustainability something that we all care about from our earliest years: As exemplified with his school lunch programs across the UK and USA.
Maria Hines, Tilth — Seattle, WA
Chef Maria Hines is Pacific Northwest food culture: farm to table, sustainable, and thoughtful. Chef Hines recently won a James Beard award for her efforts to make Tilth one of the most sustainable restaurants in Seattle — where the competition for sustainability is a fierce as a Portlandia sketch.
This commitment goes beyond just the restaurant, Chef Hines and her team started Seattle Tilth which aims to educate anyone interested in the ways of sustainable and healthy food cultures with events, classes, and even gardens.
Erik Sun, Arsenal and The Hunted — San Francisco, CA
Chef Erik Sun has revolutionized conversations about how foods can be directly sourced by a chef — freshly and humanely through fishing and hunting. This led Chef Sun to get a gig at the lauded L.A. eatery Bestia, and now he’s opening up his own shingles centered around hand sourced fish and game in San Francisco. This is a man who is truly committed to being field-to-table.
Jin Soo Yang, Bamboo Sushi — Portland, OR
Seafood sustainability is one of the biggest issues facing the food industry right now. Stocks are devastatingly low and poor economic practices are pervasive. Chef Jin Soo Yang runs the world’s first certified sustainable sushi restaurant in the world. When you consider how many sushi restos there are in the USA alone, that’s amazing to consider.
Chef Jin has a four-pronged approach to his menu: food, design, people, and the planet. Each are taken into consideration with every decision for the restaurant, and that makes them one of the best.
Sean Sherman, Sioux Chef — Minneapolis, MN
Chef Sean Sherman is literally writing the book on what North American indigenous cuisine was, is, and will be. He’s a pioneer who is looking to the very murky past to reinvent Sioux food culture — most of which was lost through human and cultural genocide. His menus are bringing back foodways that benefit indigenous health both physically and mentally. Chef Sherman centers his idea of food around a wheel that incorporates indigenous wisdom, animals, plants, and the elements into a whole. Now he’s taking these conversations one step further and opening the first indigenous kitchen and pantry in North America, which will also be 100 percent fossil fuel free.
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Photo Credit: Phillip Breker. We love this photo of Sioux Chef team member Tashia Hart, Culinary Ethnobotanist, in her natural environment finding awesome flavors, food, and medicine… #thesiouxchef #indigenousfoodsystems #foraging #northdakota #sissetonwahpetonoyate #ethnobotany
Dan Barber, Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Farms — NYC and Pocantico Hills, NY
Chef Dan Barber’s Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns represent the convergence of innovation, curiosity, ingenuity, and sustainability. Chef Barber is another chef who has won too many accolades to list here. He’s an innovator who cares deeply about flavor, sourcing, and delivery of a product that has a conscientious proneness behind it.
Chef Barber’s Blue Hills restos are the mountaintop in new American sustainable cuisine.