Chef Art Smith Interview: Restaurants Going Green
The colorful eatery is one of a growing network of restaurants around the country to embrace sustainability and become a Certified Green Restaurant. Southern Art and Bourbon Bar took an impressive 49 steps to conserve energy, eliminate waste and offer more fresh, local and organic dishes. In turn, the Green Restaurant Association awarded the popular southern food restaurant a two-star rating, assuring discerning diners a delicious meal that’s also lighter on the environment.
The InterContinental Hotel Group has been a fantastic driving force in the effort to green the restaurant industry. To date, 26 different IHG establishments have earned a 2-star or 3-star rating with the Green Dining Association. In the process, these eco-minded restaurants have become a model of conservation, from water reduction to minimizing harmful chemicals. It’s something diners might not see, but they’ll definitely appreciate.
Here’s what Chef Art Smith had to say about going green:
The Southern Art menu is teeming with “throwback” dishes and techniques from refrigerator pickles to artisan hams. What time-honored sustainability tips do you take from your own southern roots?
Simply teaching people how to preserve and can fresh ingredients. If we focused on these time-honored food traditions we would all eat better. Seasonal eating is a huge key to sustainability, but it tastes really great, too. A well-made pickle and a thin slice of well-cured ham is a shining example of a dish by someone who didn’t have a choice or a supermarket; it was a necessity.
In what ways does Southern cooking already value and celebrate sustainability?
What we know of southern cooking was created from Reconstruction. The American South was in ruins, crops were burned and there was hunger, but free slaves taught people how to cook things like okra and collard greens and the concept of snout-to-tail cooking to ensure nothing was wasted. They used available, sustainable, locally grown foods to create big meals that fed families.
The former economy depended on imports and these amazing people taught others how to survive. Today, this food we call ‘southern food’ and what was called ‘soul food’ in the 1970’s continues to comfort people. The popularity of it is due to its sustainability. Its inexpensive ingredients are easy to find and it feeds lots of people.
How often do patrons mention your Green Restaurant Certification? Do you feel it has helped drive business and recognition?
They actually never mention it, but it’s more important to me that we have it. Customers don’t want to be preached to, they just want to enjoy a meal knowing it comes from a good place. I also have LYFE Kitchen which is a Green Restaurant, too.
How did the Southern Art staff respond to the sustainable improvements?
Our partner, InterContinental Hotels Group, has been a big player in sustainability for years so it was a natural fit.
In addition to kitchen duty at Southern Art, you also founded Common Threads, a non-profit that helps children learn to prepare healthy meals. What was the driving force behind Common Threads?
The goal of Common Threads is to teach a child how cook to healthy, affordable meals for their own well-being and their families’. We started with 15 kids in a basement, and this year taught almost 33,000. We are now in three states and will be in 200 schools as of next year. Our goal is to teach 1 million kids how to cook healthy food in 5 years.
How do you integrate lessons in sustainability into your Common Threads workshops?
Every day our teachers teach little ones about appreciating our culture, the sharing of food and the importance of protecting the planet.
As part of the InterContinental, you serve both local patrons and travelers. What is the significance of your Green Dining certification to hotel guests?
Again, I don’t think they notice, but I am sure those who do notice smile when they see it. We still have a LONG ROAD ahead on teaching Green Dining, but that doesn’t mean we stop educating. Some states are more aware than others. We created LYFE Kitchen in California, and it was a given and very expected. If more restaurants were founded in that green mentality we would surely get the rest of the country on the same plate.
photo credit: Sara Hanna
Greening the restaurant industry