Why Achieving Zero Waste Is Such a Challenge for Restaurants
by Sara Harrison
In the homey dining room at West Oakland’s Brown Sugar Kitchen, servers glide between tables offering refills on coffee while line cooks work in the open kitchen, frying chicken in front of a row of countertop seats. A neighborhood favorite, the restaurant boasts a warm atmosphere combining owner and chef Tanya Holland’s French culinary training with traditional down-home soul food to create dishes like barbecue shrimp and grits, beignets, and buttermilk fried chicken served with a cornmeal waffle.
Though nothing in Brown Sugar Kitchen’s dining room or menu shows off the restaurant’s environmental credentials, Holland has long used sustainable practices, including ordering from local vendors and composting. Now she is pursuing a new, even more ambitious goal: a zero-waste kitchen.
Organized by Blue Cart, a startup that uses technology to streamline the ordering process for restaurants, the Zero Waste Kitchen initiative worked with three chefs from around the country over the course of two months this spring to promote sustainability and reduce wasted food.
Alongside chef Tim Ma (of Kyirisan in Washington, D.C.) and chef Jehangir Mehta (of Graffiti Earth in New York), Holland spent two months tracking her food waste and identifying different actions — from composting to team culture, products, and sourcing — that can reduce her restaurant’s environmental footprint.
By highlighting the efforts of these three chefs, featuring their conversations, and sharing their journey to achieve zero waste operations, Blue Cart is hoping to educate chefs across the country about the cost — both monetary and environmental — of food waste. It also hopes to share practical tips for any chefs who want to incorporate more sustainable practices into their kitchens.