Learning about the industry has given me new insights into the relationship between restaurants, food and various trends that have ebbed and flowed. Sometimes these trends run along cultural themes, sometimes they are a reflection of economic constraints or, perhaps, environmental concerns. What interests me then, is to what extent Smoke and Salt has responsibility in shaping attitudes and norms associated with restaurants?
Certainly, grand chefs of past eras were instrumental in shaping fads and trends in food based on their own tastes and industry views. These (often mostly) men at the helm of prestigious restaurants, some of them institutions, with a long history, would be a source from which trends would filter downwards and outwards. In this highly hierarchized industry, a lone chef’s principles get subsumed by the ambitions of those above you, which then filter down to the alumni of staff produced by those grand institutions. However, a noticeable difference today, is that the huge proliferation of restaurants means a great diversification in the independence of chefs to merge their professional capacity with their personal ideals.
A prime example has been the spread of the buzzword ‘sustainable’. Deriving mostly from environmental concerns, the definition of ‘sustainability’ has been hashed over in every science, humanity, government agency, NGO, and pub pundit. And these distinct definitions play out in different ways in different industries. For example, the fisheries industries will use a maximum sustainable yield formula to calculate the extent fishing can be maintained without damaging the marine ecosystem. In contrast, on a far smaller scale households act ‘sustainably’ by, for instance, recycling, having eco-bulbs and a compost heap. For the purpose of this blog and in my mind, ‘sustainability’ implies an awareness of the wider socio-environmental consequences of your actions and therefore to try to live within your means.
With regards to the restaurant industry the notion of ‘sustainability’ has, for a while now, embedded itself into certain trends and approaches. However, ‘sustainability’ itself being a buzzword can obscure what, in practice, is actually being done. I have found it interesting viewing the progression of the restaurant and learning about the industry from an outside perspective, with little to no former experience. In particular, I am intrigued as to how Remi and Aaron see the restaurant industry going and how and where they see Smoke and Salt fitting in.
I might add that aside from Aaron and Remi seeming to be generally conscientious about ‘sustainability’, there is clearly a financial incentive within the practice for the restaurant. The global price of food has steadily risen, and coupled with stiffer competition with more restaurants, there is logic in getting as much as possible out of your produce. For example, our new “Spring Chicken” dish uses the bird’s breast, the heart and feet for a gelatinous stock. The carcass is also used for the stockpot and the rest of the bird saved for a staff meal. In this way, we get the most bang for our buck – ‘sustainability’ in the restaurant lends itself to being smart with how you spend your money. Moreover, aside from the obvious minimised food waste, the practice of being sustainable encourages chefs to be creative in how they put ingredients to tasty use.
Looking at the menu overall it is clear to see that vegetables are used root, stem and, where possible, top. Our seasonal approach, again, reflects this ideal of ‘sustainability’ making congruous sense and at the same time allowing Remi and Aaron to regularly flex their inventiveness. Having said all that, I don’t want to depict an entirely eco-responsible image of our restaurant. There are things that get wasted and we cannot force our customers, for instance, to eat everything on their plate. The fact remains eating out at restaurants is a luxury and luxuries hardly lend themselves to sustainability.
And yet, with a growing amount of restaurant owners free to pursue their own agendas, independent from the rigid hierarchies of larger (and often very wasteful restaurants), we might see a reconfiguring of the dynamic between chef and client, of server and served. It is certainly something interests me. There exist innumerable challenges we face as a society and I find it fascinating how restaurants respond to shouldering some of the responsibility in tackling them. Pessimistically, you could say that one restaurant amounts to a mere drop in an ocean, but then – what is an ocean but a multitude of drops?