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

Regional, Seasonal Texas Holiday At Dai Due

Dai Due, based in Austin, Texas, has a lot of figurative irons in the fire. They’re a farmer’s market stand. They’re an educational organization. They’re… Read more

sustainable restaurant

Serving Up Integrity In Sydney: Billy Kwong

Kylie’s bijoux restaurant is located in the Surry Hills neighborhood of Sydney, a once down-and-out corner of the city that has been reborn as a… 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

Daily Bread: Doing Business and Doing Good

JP and Michelle MacFadyen are dedicated to sustainable practices in their restaurant and to sharing the bounty of their bakery with others through local food… 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

Haven Sustainable Restaurant Houston

Sustainable Restaurants: Haven Houston

If you think of Texas as dry and dusty, Houston will surprise you. It’s hot, sure, but also humid, almost lushly so, thanks to its… Read more

Chef Aurelien Crosato

Interview With Chef Aurelien Crosato

Chef and owner of Soléna restaurant in Bordeaux, France, talks to EthicalFoods.com about local sourcing in Aquitaine and how this year’s weather is affecting his… Read more

Restaurants in West Marin Feeding Evacuees of the Sonoma Napa Fire in Northern California

Bittersweet: 16 year old celebrates birthday with other fire evacuees in West Marin West Marin offers shelter, food and support for families fleeing the Sonoma… Read more

compostable containers

Compostable Food Containers Gaining Ground for Restaurant Takeout

It used to be that to-go packaging, save Chinese take-out, was made out of Styrofoam which came complete with a set of plastic cutlery. Today… 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

Samantha Egelhoff L'etoile

L’Etoile Restaurant Madison

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

Too Good To Waste

Too Good To Waste: The Doggy Bag In Europe

A long-standing stigma attached to taking leftovers home has hindered British and European diners from tackling waste reduction at the restaurant table. Three new movements… Read more