Monday, November 17, 2008

Tips for chefs looking to go green

Contributed by Steve Kurtz, vice president of the Going Green Program from FoodServiceWarehouse.com

Going green has become a popular trend in foodservice. So far, there has been a lot of talk about using organic and local food ingredients, and organizations like Energy Star have focused their efforts on promoting the most energy-efficient equipment and advanced technologies. Meanwhile, chefs are left wondering what they can do in their day-to-day work to help the environment. The truth is that they can probably help out more than they ever thought possible, without significantly altering the quality of their cuisine or the way they run their kitchen. Using insight and advice from FoodServiceWarehouse.com’s Going Green Program, chefs can learn easy ways to avoid wasting energy, water and food. Here are the top five tips for chefs to go green:

1. Use cooking water wisely. Often, water is the most wasted resource in the kitchen. Chefs should be sure to fill pots only as high as needed for even boiling and cover them with lids to save both water and energy by reducing evaporation and cook times. Also, chefs and other workers in the kitchen should avoid dumping water down the drain. Instead, they can reuse clear water from boiling or steaming for simple cleaning tasks or soaking dishes.

2. Watch out for wasted heat. When opening the kitchen, chefs and kitchen workers do not need to turn on all the cooking equipment right away. Since most equipment requires less than 30 minutes to preheat, and steamers and fryers rarely need more than 15, chefs should make sure this equipment is not left idling unnecessarily. They could take other small steps, like boiling liquids at the lowest setting that will maintain the boil. Once a liquid is boiling, it cannot get any hotter without vaporizing. Chefs should also experiment with cooking full loads, as well as turning off the oven during the last few minutes of baking, since the chamber will retain heat and the food will still cook. Some recipes actually call for this method.

3. Keep composting and recycling bins nearby. By keeping the composting and recycling bins right next to the food preparation area, chefs can practically eliminate waste in their kitchen. Almost all food scraps can be composted, and much of the packaging can be recycled. As they prepare dishes, chefs should keep the bins as close as possible to make recycling convenient, although they should check with local health codes to learn about any regulations on the proximity of waste receptacles to exposed food and food-contact surfaces.

4. Choose your equipment carefully. As they create or alter recipes, chefs should try to develop the most efficient cooking methods possible. Microwaves, steamers, griddles and fryers are generally more energy-efficient than ovens, broilers, woks and open-burner gas ranges. Chefs could use an energy-efficient grooved griddle instead of a broiler to sear meat or vegetables and achieve similar grill marks, or use a braising pan instead of an oven to wet-roast meats. Chefs can also conserve energy by taking advantage of their most versatile equipment and reducing the need for other pieces of equipment to be left idling throughout the day. For example, a braising pan can be used to sauté, simmer, boil and hold warm foods, and a steamer can cook just about anything that does not require browning or a crust.

5. Be mindful of the whole kitchen. One of the easiest ways chefs can save energy in the kitchen is to pay attention to all equipment. They should watch for doors left open on refrigerators, freezers, ovens, and warming and holding cabinets. An open lid on a prep table can increase electricity consumption by up to fifty percent, so chefs should always make sure that the lids on food wells are kept closed. They can also be mindful and save energy by checking for, and turning off, unused sections of steamers or fryers, or keeping an eye out for worn-out seals or parts in their equipment.

For all chefs, the quality of the cuisine is of the utmost importance. Thankfully, the final dish does not have to suffer in order for it to be eco-friendly. By implementing a few of the above tips and guidelines from FoodServiceWarehouse.com’s Going Green Program, chefs can help the environment without sacrificing their art.

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