Though there is a deluge of innovative dining trends in 2016 — cricket flour, high-tech food delivery and poke (pronounced pok-eh) to name a few — here’s one that goes beyond the palate and extends to our future: saving the planet.
The Perennial is an audacious new “post agrarian,” sustainably designed restaurant in San Francisco that’s rethinking every aspect of traditional food service. It is sparking a larger conversation about food, its role in adding to climate change, and how restaurants can lead the charge toward reversing that devastating decline.
Here are 7 innovative practices you’ll find at The Perennial and why other restaurants might soon be looking to follow in its tread.
1. Progressive Agrarian cuisine
Forget “farm-to-table.” The Perennial is “table-to-farm,” which asks not what our natural resources can do for us, but what we can do for them. The menu showcases plant-centric starters such as sunflower caesar salad made with aquaponic lettuces , along with entrees such pastured beef with blistered broccoli leaves. Even the smaller portions of meat (four ounces versus the typical eight) is intentional.
2. Aquaponic greenhouses
The restaurant’s 2,000-square-foot aquaponic greenhouse in Oakland not only supplies it with greens, herbs and eventually, sturgeon, catfish and clams; it also puts its waste to good use.
Aquaponics is a symbiotic system in which plants are grown directly in water that gets its nutrients from fish waste. Kitchen scraps are composted by the greenhouse’s worms and larvae, which are then processed into feed to nourish the aquaculture. The fish waste is converted into fertilizer for the greenhouse plants that get served at the restaurant. And the cycle begins over again.
3. Carbon farming
According to The Marin Carbon Project, as much as a third of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere results from poor farming management practices. The Perennial champions a new kind of climate-beneficial farming, known as carbon farming, in which cattle graze on rangeland planted with perennial grasses whose longer roots can sequester carbon beneath the soil longer.
In addition to sourcing from farmers and dairies who follow this practice, The Perennial partners with the Carbon Cycle Institute to design technologies and national policies that encourage more carbon stewardship.
Carbon stewardship refers to land management decisions that aim to reduce greenhouse gases and its role in climate change by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide that gets released in the air, through various means, including carbon offsets and sequestering.
4. The Kernza alternative
You may not have heard of kernza yet, but this new perennial grain developed by The Land Institute in Kansas is a promising alternative to traditional wheat. Because it grows year round, the kernza plant is able to grow deeper roots that are more effective in storing carbon, fighting pests, preventing soil erosion and combating other problems associated with annual monoculture.
The Perennial employs kernza for its house bread and is the first restaurant in the world to use it on a large scale.
5. Energy-efficient kitchen appliances
The kitchen is tricked out with high-tech innovations: a laser-activated smart vent hood that senses the air above the stoves and turns itself on and off as as needed; Turbo Pots lined with ridges to create heat sinks that boil water twice as fast as conventional pots; and eco-grip flooring made from 100% recycled material that doesn’t require being hosed down.
6. Cocktails for a smaller planet
Beverage director Jennifer Colliau also follows the three Rs (reuse, reduce, recycle) behind the bar. Wine and pre-batched cocktails are stored on tap, cobbled ice replaces the more wasteful ice-cube machines, and straws are made from actual straw (as in, scarecrow straw). She also uses a water still to convert leftover garnishes such as citrus zest into hydrosols to give cocktails acidity, in lieu of freshly squeezed juice.
7. Sustainable design
Nearly everything (bar, tables and chairs) was made from reclaimed lumber, and much of it was upcycled: Wood shavings from milling the posts were woven into the ceiling, and scraps from the dining room went to build raised beds at the greenhouse. Sustainability also extends to the tabletop. Recycled glass utensil holders cut down on silverware changes, and old menus (printed on 100% recycled paper) and cloth napkins are fed to the worms.
Will all of these initiatives pan out? Probably not. But Myint and Leibowitz aren’t afraid to try to throw a bunch of sustainably sourced spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks. You can be sure that other restaurateurs will be watching their every move. In the meantime, the experiment is proving to be a tasty one for diners.