Aurélien Crosato, chef and owner of Soléna restaurant in Bordeaux, France, talks about local sourcing in Aquitaine and how this year’s weather is affecting his menu, and the viability of sustainable family farms.
After a few years at the helm of some well known restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area, Aurélien Crosato returned to his hometown of Bordeaux, France to open a jewelbox of a modern restaurant in the St Bruno quarter, very near the old city. He and his wife (a San Francisco native) built the elegant restaurant with their own hands, literally from the floor up—turning a hovel of a pizza joint into a serene dining room that feels more hip West Coast than ancient Aquitaine. They called it Soléna.
Amazingly, everything that comes to your table is made from scratch in Aurélien’s kitchen. Every condiment, sauce and miniature financier is made in-house. Ice creams are made from raw, local milk; fish is serial number tagged and traceable; pork comes from a local biodynamic farm. About the only thing not made in Soléna’s kitchen is the table bread.
You take local sourcing seriously, why?
Because it makes sense. I pay people around my community rather than a far away farmer. And sustainability comes along with producers who have developed knowledge and savoir faire—and I love that.
Has your restaurant been affected in any way by climate change?
Soléna is only 2.5 years old so it’s difficult to comprehend the possible influence of climate change, year on year. But there is one thing I can tell you: I source local and seasonal vegetables and fruits and the weather in the past couple of years was really extreme, either super dry or like this year, super wet.
In consequence some vegetables are really difficult to source or their season shrank. For example I’m writing today, June 8th, and it’s pouring with rain and chilly outside! Cherries are super rare and expensive, the classic spring veggies like peas and fava beans are tiny and moldy. We will literally jump from winter veggies (cabbages are still running strong late in their season) to summer (tomato, eggplant, zucchini…)
Are there any other challenges you’ve encountered in trying to find local suppliers of sustainably cultivated food?
Yes. People with the will to grow or produce food ethically are scarce for the following reason: it takes skills and knowledge and a lot of money to rent the land and make money out of it. In addition, because of the unstable weather some growers didn’t make any money this spring. Getting quality, ethical, seasonal veggies is really challenging and it takes me A LOT of time to source.
If you could change or accomplish one thing in 2013 that would make local, sustainable food more accessible, what would that be?
I dream of opening a casual little sandwich corner that only serves seasonal, locally sourced products for a reasonable price. But honestly, running such a business in France today is riskier than swimming with a wound surrounded by white sharks. I unfortunately really believe that sourcing such goods will become more and more costly and scarce here.
How do you think climate change will affect agriculture and the restaurant industry in the future?
Climate change is only one component of many that affect today’s agriculture and restaurant business (quality-oriented ones, I mean). There are other pressures as well, such as changing demographics, the ongoing financial crises, pollution…
I don’t want to seem dramatic, but I believe that the drastic and global modifications that have occurred since WW2 will keep going (such as the use of toxic pesticides, greenhouse gas emissions, environmental impacts of factory farming, to name a few), and I have no idea when and how we will face the consequences.
Publisher’s note: I spoke with Aurélien today (19 June) and he reports that the weather in France has worsened, ruining orchards and vineyards.