A People-Person's Approach To Saving The Planet

How two chefs on opposite ends of the country put their communities first in the fight for sustainability.

April 21, 2018 ● 2 min read

We're pregaming Earth Day this year, mostly because damn, it's getting pretty bleak out there and it's more important than ever to stick to your soil guns and fight for our planet. We asked a handful of industry pros what sustainability meant to them: we've been publishing their answers throughout the week.

Image via iStock

I started taking sustainability a little more seriously when we moved back to Hawaii four years ago.

Oahu is a small island. When you finally comprehend how small it is, then you realize the need to do something for the greater good. You always hear [about] emergency preparedness because of natural disasters: if it strikes and you aren't ready, it might be too late.

Society plays a large role in this movement. No one is able to make a change alone—it takes a whole village. I always tell my team that people don’t buy what we do, people buy why we do it.

We want our community to know why we do what we do. We want our community to eat healthier, so we provide [the] opportunity, and hold cooking classes. What we choose to do [in our environment] and how we do it impacts not only ourselves but the bounty that surrounds us. I am grateful to be blessed by these beautiful treasures, and I pay my respect to Mother Nature by doing what is right. Our restaurant is certified ocean-friendly and uses biodegradable materials that are eco-friendly. We also conserve our water.

Sourcing seafood isn’t hard in Hawaii—but is it supporting fair-trade? Overfishing is a big threat; I only support sustainable and transparent hook and line methods of fishing. We source about 85% locally and [work] with local farmers and ranchers. We are currently working to have on-site farms and gardens to lessen [our] carbon footprint.

The supply chain goes beyond inventory: Are you maximizing ingredients? What do you do with your waste? Sustainability is not a movement one chef is able to fix, but small changes, when put together, can be big enough.

Why is it important? Because the future [depends] on it. You can make it fun, give it color, give it flavor, make it exciting. It has to be more than just supporting a movement: it has to be a lifestyle.

—Chef Felix Tai, Pounders Restaurant | Lā‘ie, HI

At Comfort, we look at community sustainability through a different lens.

We think about sustainability at all of our restaurants, and do what we can through purchasing (only draft beer at Pasture to reduce waste), recycling (mixed cans at the restaurants), and reducing waste (we dehydrate leftover mash and purees from sauces), but we have shifted our concept to one that donates 100% of our profits to fight food insecurity in our area [through] Feedmore, our local core anti-hunger charity.

Without a healthy, nourished population, the ability to continue to develop and grow as a city goes away. The more we can fight hunger in our youth, our seniors, and our parents, the stronger population base we have to contribute in a real and positive way. So the need to end hunger is not just one of altruism, but also one that creates a citizenry that is capable and willing to give back to the next generation.

—Chef Jason Alley, Comfort, Flora, and Pasture | Richmond, VA

Responses edited and condensed for clarity.