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Consumers Now Love Eco-Friendly Menus, and Chefs Cope

Here’s good news for those who are intent on serving sustainable menus: a recent National Restaurant Association (NRA) trend survey data showed a radical increase in restaurant diners’ support for sustainable menus, especially in higher end establishments.

NRA’s annual Restaurant Industry Forecast revealed that 55% of adult consumers are eager to visit restaurants that offer locally grown food, organic dishes or menu items that have been prepared in an environmentally friendly manner. Restaurant operators also attested to this, saying that they have had an increasing number of customers who are interested in ordering sustainable menu items. 58% of fast-casual restaurateurs say so, while 50% of quick-service and family-dining operators also said the same about their customers.

The report is an improvement to Mintel’s study on the subject last year which showed that although there are many restaurant consumers who are willing to spend for sustainable dishes, majority of them are cost conscious—they are only prepared to pay as much as 1% to 5% more than a menu item’s normal price. That is why many restaurants are hesitant to come up with sustainability menus—a lot are doubting if they can afford the costs, considering that diners aren’t quite willing to pay for the extra expenses that sustainable dishes entail.

Consumers looking for ways to help

As Hudson Riehle, NRA’s senior vice president of research and knowledge said, “Diners of different ages have become more knowledgeable and sophisticated when it comes to nutrition, food and sustainable practices in the past years. Now, more than ever, they want to help look after the environment whenever they get the chance to do so.”

Professional chefs cope by repurposing

We’ve actually given some tips on how restaurants can cope with the cost of sustainable menus—counterbalancing the expense of sustainable cuisine means maximizing every bit of ingredients that restaurants buy—trimmings, scraps and the like. Today’s trend, after all is all about conservation, keeping in mind the 4 R’s of sustainability: reuse, reduce, recycle and repurpose.

Professional chefs, in their stylish chef clothing, are becoming real good in repurposing leftovers and scraps, turning the activity into stunning second acts, as dramatic and thrilling as how they create their main specialties in their own kitchens.

Chef Matthias Merges, who used to be with Charlie Trotter’s restaurant and now has opened Yusho in Chicago, is one good example. He believes that creativity rests on the chef’s ability to use scraps and the skill to lift it up into something interesting and delicious; he makes use of chicken cartilage, salmon skin, roots of herb plants, down to the rinse water from rice. “Maximizing the use of these products means we respect it, which speaks a lot louder than just the food itself,” he says.

Chef Mark Mendez of Vera makes sure not to waste any of his extensive artisanal cheese–he soaks the leftovers in white wine then purees them with garlic cloves. It it’s mild cheese he has, he uses butters and herbs. The mix is then spread on toast slices–another captivating special at the restaurant.

Bar Toma’s Chef Tony Mantuano mixes his leftover Parmesan cheese with herbs and olive oil, creating a spread which he pairs with raw vegetables in his Pinzimonio bar plate. Leftover rice are made into arancini balls, stuffed with chunky edges of prosciutto, while leftover spaghetti are combined with olive oil and beaten eggs, creating a sumptuous noodle-based frittata.

Other chefs in elegant chef clothing buy whole chickens instead of parts and freezes the chicken bones to be able to fill a large vat of chicken stock which they use in other spectacular recipes; extra pastas gets mixed with left over vegetables, cream custard, cheese ends and an egg before it’s baked, creating a magnificent repurposed main dish; leftover short rib trimmings are blended with braising liquid, fresh herbs, Parmesan and are ground together, creating a delicious ravioli filling.

And chefs take pride in what they do–finding enjoyment in creating delectable dishes out of nothing, and at the same time getting fulfillment in helping save the world.