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

 

Learn more

Southern Art

Dine Green

Greening the restaurant industry

Regional kitchen: how to cook southern food


More Ethical Foods Restaurant & Chef Interviews

Chef Tory Miller

Your Chef and Climate Change: Tory Miller of Graze

As Executive Chef for both Graze and L’Etoile in Madison, Wisconsin, Tory Miller chooses only the finest farm-fresh ingredients from his local producers.  At his… Read more

Project Green Fork

Project Green Fork In Memphis

Margot McNeeley, founder of Project Green Fork in Memphis, Tennessee, talks to EthicalFoods.com about the challenges of helping restaurants move toward sustainable practices. Read more

chef jonathon sawyer greenhouse tavern

Your Chef and Climate Change: Jonathon Sawyer of Greenhouse Tavern

As Ohio’s first certified green restaurant, The Greenhouse Tavern maintains two core principles- to use local, organic and sustainably produced ingredients and to operate under… Read more

Preserving a Legacy, Building a Sustainable Future

Long Meadow Ranch restaurant, winery, olive grove and ranch in California’s Napa Valley Ted, Laddie and Chris Hall, owners of Napa Valley’s beautiful Long Meadow… Read more

Recycled Shipping Container Restaurants

Recycled Shipping Container Restaurants

From ice cream made to order to a globe trotting Singaporean kitchen, restaurants are turning a source of industrial pollution into a source of inspiration. Read more

Samantha Egelhoff L'etoile

L’Etoile

Long before it was fashionable to do so, Piper cultivated strong ties with small regional farmers and their products, from heirloom vegetables and sustainably raised… Read more

Zero Waste: Reducing Restaurant Waste And Pollution

Zero Waste: Let’s Count The Ways

Restaurants are a significant source of pollution—from food waste to spent cooking oil to toxic chemicals. Eden Canon explores the ways in which the restaurant… Read more

sustainable restaurants colonie nyc

In The Walls: Reclaimed & Recycled Materials

Whether through the use of what would be considered industrial waste or bringing back a piece of history by using antique items, restaurants are finding… Read more

Locally Sourced Holiday Drinks Restaurant Chicago

Local, Sustainable Chicago Holiday Menu

When it comes to its holiday menu, co-owner Helen Cameron is careful to emphasize that it’s really business as usual in the kitchen. “That’s actually… Read more

Fruition Restaurant Denver

Chef & Farmer: Alex Seidel of Fruition Restaurant

Restaurants with their own farms gain a unique appreciation for what it takes to produce quality food. Chef Alex Seidel has gotten a lot of… Read more

Forage LA

Forage Restaurant

What sets Forage apart is its ingredients – or more specifically, their sources. Dedicated advocates of ultra-local, Forage leads the way in inspired community sourcing,… Read more

sustainable restaurants

How Green is Your Favorite Restaurant?

Sometimes sustainability is equated with upscale restaurants that specifically market their local and sustainable credentials. But what about your favorite pizza joint, or the place… Read more