Why are we doing this? This is the question that runs through everything we do at Actinolite. Learning about why we do things is a spark for our creativity, but lately we’ve been thinking through another aspect of why and how we do things here at the restaurant. We’ve always asked ourselves the questions: Is this interesting? Does this taste good? How will people eat it? What will it look like? But over the last few years we’ve been asking ourselves all of these questions, and then adding another layer: Is this in season? What region is this from? How is it being grown? Are we using too much energy to produce it? Is there a more efficient way to do this? What can we do with the scraps and leftovers? Our questioning means that we often ignore different options or force ourselves to find techniques and products that make sense with our view of how we should eat.
We’ve had a lot of teachers and lessons on sustainability. Becoming part of a community of like-minded purveyors, businesses, and individuals has been a huge catalyst for our efforts at sustainability. When Andrew from Circle Organics tells us about how he’s saving energy by using new insulation techniques in his greenhouse we can’t help but reflect on the way that we’re using energy. We don’t have all the answers, but each of the partners that we work with end up sharing their experiences and knowledge with us. Those beautiful fragments are coming into focus as map of what responsible practices should look like at Actinolite.
Cooking from the Canadian landscape was the first step on our journey towards sustainable practices. Serving food from our region gave us a connection with the food we serve that we didn’t have before. As we’ve explored the range of produce that’s available in our region our cuisine has become intensely seasonal. The first shoots of spring inspire us because they’re gorgeous and taste like a change in the weather, but they’re also the most sensible thing for us to be serving as they’re the only thing growing. Under the blanket of winter we turn to our pantry and the root cellars of our farmers because our region is asleep for the darker months and preservation is how we’re able to serve a local menu through them
Managing energy use runs through the entire restaurant. The radiators that heat the dining room and the pilot lights that keep the ovens lit do double duty as dehydrators. When the weather is hot and sunny our patio serves the same function. This mentality is partly a financial concern, but it’s more philosophy than business. Planning our actions to reduce our energy consumption can be as simple as thawing frozen meat overnight in the fridge instead of using running water. It takes more thought, but it’s a simple gesture that makes a difference.
Byproducts have become a huge aspect of how we think about food. When we serve a dish now we have new flavours to work with because of this approach. Finding uses for the trim from our produce has given us a larger palette of flavours with which to compose our food, and it’s changed the way we cook. We’ve served a dish of raw beef seasoned with celery top oil, fermented celery root skin powder, blackened apple, and black trumpet mushrooms preserved in apple cider vinegar we made from foraged apples. We wouldn’t have been able to make that dish if we weren’t thinking about how to use every part of the produce that we bring into the restaurant.
So why do we do this? Cooking with every part of a plant or animal is nothing new, our ancestors had to struggle with scarcity; Food and community came first. We’re realizing that we’ve lost our connection to a community based around food and relationships. Food can be the seed of a more sustainable way of life. Sharing this philosophy of eating and being in the world is a way to address our culture’s conspicuous abundance. Making room for a dialogue about food waste and community is a way to address careless consumption. Connecting with our landscape and community is how we can share what we’ve learned. Passing this on to a new generation of responsible consumers is more important than creating another dish.
That is why we do this.