Michelin Green Star chef Matthew Kammerer on sustainability
To mark the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste on 29th September, Sustainability interviewed Executive Chef Matthew Kammerer, of Harbor House Inn, California, USA, who has been awarded the Michelin Green Star for his sustainable food practices.
- 17% of total global food production is wasted annually
- In the global food system, food that is lost and wasted accounts for 38% of total energy usage
The Michelin Green Star celebrates chefs who have put sustainable practices in place, such as working with sustainable producers, minimising plastic usage and avoiding food waste.
Here, Kammerer discusses his approach to sustainability, earning his Michelin stars and how he first became aware of food waste.
Hello Matthew! Tell us about your career as a chef - where did you start out?
“I started my career washing dishes at a local breakfast cafe in New Jersey, with no intention of ever becoming a chef. I was quickly drawn to the restaurant work environment, including the type of people that were employed there, and the style of work; fast-paced, exciting and ever-changing. This led me to culinary school in Rhode Island. Over the next 5 years I worked in Boston, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and Belgium, and from there I moved to San Francisco and ultimately up north to Elk.”
How did you become aware of the impact of the food industry on the environment?
“Being in a restaurant, it's very easy to be aware of the waste involved. The plastic, the food waste, the energy involved to import ingredients. All it takes is to ask ourselves "How?" or "Why?" When we begin asking these questions where our food comes from, how it's raised, how it's packaged, we end up with the next question: Why am I serving this?”
What is your approach to sustainability?
“We put a massive focus on where our ingredients come from, and the waste involved in our preparations. We limit importing, have removed plastic wrap, save grey water from ice baths and rinsing vegetables to water our gardens, grow as much of our food as possible, have begun to raise our own animals, feature by-catch and more sustainable species of seafood caught by day-boats using rod and reel, and limit meat to grass-fed small scale production. We have our plate ware and ceramics made locally. Out of 12-14 courses one course is meat with the majority being vegetables and sustainable seafood. We start completely from scratch every day and cook for exactly the amount of covers we have to reduce and limit any food waste.”
You have been awarded 2 Michelin Stars (up from 1 Star in 2019) and are a recipient of the new Green Star - what does this mean to you?
“For me the most important thing is to have this focus on sustainability. As Chefs we want to continue receiving higher accolades but we are usually swayed in the direction of "luxury" ingredients because this seems to be the theme. These ingredients are imported from around the world. I'm honored to show that we can have a restaurant of this caliber and level of cuisine while using local, humble products, instead of just caviar and truffles. I hope we inspire each other and we begin to remove the mileage from our sourcing.”
Tell us about your sustainability business strategy and its evolution.
“We always wanted to serve products just from this area. That being said, because we are in a remote location, it's a lot harder than picking up the phone or writing an email to source something from across the country or world. It's taken a lot of time to meet the producers that help us achieve this. As we grow and continue to get to know more people, our repertoire of products throughout the year expands. We are only in the beginning and I look forward to meeting the next exceptional producer who can help take us to the next level.”
Why do other chefs need to take sustainability seriously?
“We have a huge responsibility as chefs since what and how we cook are followed and emulated. The items we see in the grocery store are driven by consumer demand. In my opinion, consumer demand is a by-product of what people are experiencing or finding delicious in restaurants. In today's age TV and social media play a massive role in our lives. The more awareness we can create about sustainability, the more influence we can have. As chefs, if we show passion and excitement towards local foods and have a more sustainable approach, we will begin to see change. What we do helps educate the public.”
What other ambitions do you have in the culinary world?
“To continue to refine what it means to work in a restaurant, sustainability goes further than just sourcing food products. I want to see restaurants become a more suitable career path for everyone. Better wages, time off and reduced hours. How do we continue to shape our industry to be more in tune with other careers, while still operating a viable business.”
What have you learned about yourself, the industry, and food over the pandemic?
“For the first time I was able to slow down, reflect and begin to think about what it means to work at Harbor House. It has pushed us forward to where we are today.”
What's your favourite sustainable recipe?
“Our abalone course. Abalone roasted in kelp, served with local rice, seaweeds from the cove below the restaurant, with a dipping sauce made from the abalone's offal. It's a product that is farmed in a natural way, utilizing all parts. The accompaniments are all local ingredients. The inspiring part here is that these abalone are shipped to us from Monterey Bay, which means packaging was an issue because we tend to avoid Styrofoam at all costs. Monterey Bay Abalone decided to accept my request to change the Styrofoam out for compostable insulation. While more expensive for them, they agreed it was the right thing to do. The consumer and the producer have to be aware that to continue to move towards a more sustainable world it is going to cost more money. But it is money well spent; it is an investment into the future well-being of our planet.”