Sustainability at Actinolite

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.  

Koji

INTRODUCTION TO PROJECTS

Since we first opened in 2012, I feel the restaurant has continued to evolve and progress. We strive to create interesting seasonal menus that seek out the unknown and thrive on new discoveries. Our Canadian seasons are short, our menu is relatively small and we only use ingredients when they are at their best. The journey has helped us improve and understand whom we are and where we want to go as a team and as a restaurant. Understanding growing periods and choosing products when they are at their peak, allows us to plan our year based on availability, which demands constant innovation from the kitchen. Every Tuesday, the Actinolite team who share my enthusiasm for foraging and my thirst for experimentation will be working on our Tuesday Projects. These projects involve pursuing new ideas through research and exploring different food preparations. Tuesdays will also become the day we connect with ingredients by visiting farms, fisheries, mills and vintners to learn more about sustainable practices.  I can confidently say the knowledge we collect by pursuing our projects will allow us to continue to bring the most interesting, informed, honest Canadian food to the table.

- Chef Justin Cournoyer

Exploring the Enzymatic Potential of Aspergillius Oryzae through Koji


This project is a collaboration between Justin Cournoyer and John Greenwell

 

Written by John Greenwell


THE IDEA

This project is stemmed from an initial conversation that Justin and I had about creating an umami rich product what would add depth of flavour to a variety of mainly vegetable preparations. We were both aware of the tradition of Miso production and consumption in Japan, and we knew that other restaurants had been making their own miso by borrowing techniques from Asian cuisine. All of these products had their genesis in a particular cultivated fungus, Aspergillius Oryzae, that was used to produce a wide variety of products based on the enzymes produced when this mold is grown on a substrate, salted, and then added to other products and allowed to enzymatically digest the protein, carbohydrates, and fats into amino acids, sugars, and fatty acids respectively. The digested products of this enzymatic breakdown offer a new range of flavours for us to explore from an array of well known ingredients that are often considered staple foods in Canada such as dried peas and barley.

 

THE INSPIRATION

Using ingenuity to combat a lack of fresh products during the winter. And mobilizing technique to make sustainable use of products in a different way.

 

INGREDIENTS SIGNIFICANT TO THE PROCESS

Koji is a process of nurturing a mold in order to produce enzymes. The key ingredients are the mold Aspergillius Oryzae and the substrate on which it grows.

 

RELEVANCE

This project is a pathway for thinking about food from a different perspective. It allows us to utilize the staples grains and legumes that have been a part of the agricultural history of Canada in a way that is new for our cuisine. from a chef’s perspective it offers an array of new techniques and flavours that allow us to build new dishes.