Conscious Kitchens

Tucson restaurants are making more of an effort to be eco-friendly

Green is now a state of mind. While just a few years ago, "being green" was merely a vague elective, today, it has resonated into a ubiquitous social responsibility.

Here is what some local restaurants are doing to be more environmentally friendly:

• From a culinary standpoint, Janos restaurant has been wearing a bit of green since its inception in 1983. The menu places a great importance on indigenous products and seasonal produce culled from Native Seeds/SEARCH and San Xavier Co-op Farms, as well as apples, cider and turkeys from Willcox and individual organic gardeners.

"Locavore," coined the 2007 Word of the Year by the New Oxford American Dictionary, is a person who endeavors to eat only locally produced food. Tucson, however, is not the San Francisco Bay Area. While Berkeley's Chez Panisse--famous for vegetables fresh from the garden, fruit picked off trees and fish straight out the water--has access to the ocean and the entire Napa Valley (just an hour away), we live in the desert, without an abundant food base at our fingertips.

Janos Wilder must look beyond, but he tries to do the right thing by supporting suppliers who practice sustainable principles.

"We used to be very proud of the cabrilla and shrimp brought in from the Gulf of California, until learning the fish supply was being decimated by overfishing," explained Janos. "We stopped buying fish from that region. Now we use a program where shrimpers are licensed to harvest shrimp only in designated waters and are moved from area to area in order to give the shrimp a chance to be replenished. Lighter-weight nets are much less harmful, because they eliminate much of the by-catch and don't tear up the ocean floor. These things are important to us."

Janos spends considerably more for diver sea scallops that are hand-selected rather than dredged. While the restaurant is by no means 100 percent organic or sustainable, Janos does promote an environmentally friendly ethos in purchasing and consumer education.

"Going green is not simple," says Janos. "There are many practices that we conform to, like recycling our oils for biodiesel, recycling cardboard (and) using compostable to-go containers. Other areas are more difficult."

• Robert Jensen, director of operations for eegee's, says that their policy is 100 percent product utilization. For instance, the ends of the meats go to the Salvation Army, and leftover bread goes to Casa Maria soup kitchen. Salads include shredded cheese so the ends of cheese won't go to waste. Every day, eegee's pulls 1,000 pounds of cardboard out of the waste stream, bales it and sells it to a Phoenix company, then donates that money back to Casa Maria. Not only does that save the company money by not needing such frequent trash pickup, but it helps the environment and aids in feeding the homeless.

The trans-fat canola oil that eegee's uses for french fries gets recycled by Grecycle to make biodiesel fuel for the Physics Bus, a bus that goes around the state and country teaching physics to children. Plastic pickle and pepperoncini buckets are sold to anyone who needs a good plastic bucket for less than what they would pay at a hardware store; customers include sheet-rockers, handymen and florists.

• According to Tom Firth, co-owner of Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort and Zona 78, both establishments use biodegradable products when buying detergents and cleaning supplies. They also recycle cardboard and buy recycled paper products when possible. Stern Produce supplies organic field greens, while organic tomatoes come from Sunizona Farms and other local vendors. The resort grows many of its own herbs and small amounts of seasonal vegetables, squash and various pepper varieties.

Zona 78 only hand-washes its bar glassware. Hand-washing the glassware is cleaner and does not leave the chemical residue sometimes found on machine-washed glassware; it also greatly reduces water consumption. The new Zona 78 location on Tanque Verde Road (opening mid-February) is being constructed with a state-of-the-art heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system for high efficiency.

• It's only appropriate that a restaurant that operates a café inside a giant inner-city garden would show the Earth some love.

"Here at Cafe 54 and at Cafe 54 at the Botanical Gardens, we use 100 percent biodegradable and compostable to-go products," says W. Jay Stancil, executive chef and catering director. "To-go cups, food lids, containers, ramekins, silverware and straws are made from corn or starch."

Café 54--whose primary mission is to serve as a job-training program for people recovering from mental illness--is in the process of changing over to nontoxic, non-ozone-depleting and biodegradable chemicals. Café 54 at the Botanical Gardens also takes advantage of composting.

• The February 2008 issue of Bon Appétit magazine names Primo--Melissa Kelly's Rockland, Maine, restaurant--as one of the Top 10 eco-friendly restaurants in the country.

Brian Jaymont, manager of Primo at JW Marriott Starr Pass, says that Tucson's Primo uses similar eco-friendly practices. There's an organic herb and vegetable garden on site. Primo also sources vegetables from Agua Linda Farms in Amado, where both the restaurant and staff buy shares in their community-supported agriculture program. Primo shops locally at Roma Imports and the 17th Street Market. Chef de Cuisine Matt Margolskee goes to the Sunday farmers' market at St. Philip's Plaza to buy products directly from purveyors. Primo also buys grass-fed beef from the San Rafael Valley and olive oil and goat cheese from family-owned farms in Arizona.

• You can take small, but important, steps to be an eco-friendly diner, too. Take only what you plan to use and eat, including food, paper napkins, condiment packets, straws, plastic drink tops and other disposable items. Why take a fork, knife and spoon when you only really need a fork? Styrofoam ends up in landfills; urge restaurants and convenience stores to use recyclable cups and containers.