Sustainable Planet, Sustainable Business: Connecting the Food System and Commercial Kitchens of the Future

Restaurants and other foodservice operators — colleges and universities, in particular — are even going hyperlocal by building their own rooftop and on-site gardens. Earlier this year Chicago's Uncommon Ground, a casual dining restaurant, earned an award for its rooftop garden, but this two-location operator is not alone: many other independent restaurants throughout Chicago and in other major metropolitan areas like New York City and Los Angeles now grow their own vegetables, fruits and herbs on site. Even K-12 schools are joining in this movement. While some gardening companies can help with on-site garden development, this still represents an untapped market for the foodservice equipment and supplies and kitchen design communities. What pots, boxes, watering hookups and greenhouse humidity control does someone like chef John Mooney of Bell, Book and Candle in New York City need to grow his own rooftop heirloom cherry tomatoes and butter lettuces for serving alongside homemade creamy burrata?

Sustainable Kitchens

FE&S has covered the topics of energy efficiency and water savings extensively over the years, but we're reaching a point where foodservice design is becoming an even more integral part of that equation.

Buying Energy Star-rated equipment represents a nice sustainability-related starting point, but savvy foodservice operators and their supply chain partners quickly transition into deeper, more impactful steps like reducing the size of the kitchen. "If we have the opportunity to build a new facility with less square footage, already it's more sustainable," Reitano says. This is evident in many European foodservice operations, and some overseas governments regulate the size of certain facilities, he adds.

Why buy two traditional fryers, for example, when one energy-efficient model will do the trick? And, buying a higher-volume, energy-efficient piece of equipment versus two lower-volume energy-efficient pieces saves even more energy. Furthermore, multiuse pieces of foodservice equipment like combi ovens that can perform different tasks in smaller footprints continue to become more popular in the operator community.

When it comes to creating a sustainable kitchen, more critical thinking has to go into purchasing Energy Star-rated equipment than simply looking at a label and making a purchase, Reitano adds. "There has to be a marriage between the design of the kitchen and the operational piece." The concept of energy efficiency extends beyond just purchasing energy- and water-efficient pieces. Simply put, leaner and meaner kitchen processes in general mean less energy use overall.

Monitoring energy and water use in an effort to measure sustainability is the other key factor in the sustainable kitchen equation, Christian says. "Separate metering is a must for kitchens," he says. By using energy management systems, foodservice operators from all segments can measure sustainable efforts — or shortcomings — even more accurately. "You can go online at any time of day and see if someone is cooking. You can see if your walk-in cooler was left open all day, or catch if racks are going into the dishwasher not full. You can see where the energy drains and savings are occurring." Through other energy audits, or even tracking water bills, operators can pinpoint if the sink was left on all day (maybe to thaw food) or if a particular type of landscaping is causing a drain on the building's water use.

Taking an even deeper look at energy and water reduction efforts, members of the foodservice industry have begun asking, "Will our core kitchen equipment, our core cookline, change entirely?" During last month's presentation at the Food Service Technology Center, director of engineering David Zabrowski talked about a move away from gas equipment to 90 percent more efficient induction ranges for the "kitchen of the future." While it was a visionary approach, the questions become: Is it possible? And is it necessary?