Welcome back to our sustainable chef series, where we’re connecting with local chefs to spotlight their ingenuity and creativity as they work to reduce waste in the kitchen. In previous installments we featured Rob Rubba from Oyster Oyster and Liv and Zach from Toki Underground.
Due to the scale of food waste produced by restaurants, chefs have the power to make a big difference when they transition their commercial kitchens to start composting food scraps instead of sending their organics to the landfill. But composting isn’t the only way that restaurateurs can make a positive impact through sustainability.
For Brian Hatfield, Executive Chef at Farmers and Distillers in DC, cooking sustainably is all about awareness.
According to Brian, this comes down to being conscious of all components in and out of the kitchen including everything ranging from waste reduction, ordering and sourcing products, and explaining products to customers.
Brian grew up in Georgia, and has felt connected to food since his childhood. “In the South, food is a big part of culture in general. It is everywhere, but in the South even more so.”
Cooking at home with family almost every night as a child, Brian quickly fell in love with food. After securing a job one summer near his family’s vacation home in Maine, he was inspired by the drive of his coworkers and “fell in love with the chaos” of restaurants. The rest is history.
After attending the Culinary Institute of America in New York, Brian started out as a sous chef at a country club in Dallas, and has worked at a variety of restaurants since. Brian noted that many of the restaurants he worked at had a focus on sustainability in some way, but none quite to the extent of Farmers & Distillers.
Farmers & Distillers is directly aligned with the farmers that provide their ingredients. Specifically, Farmers & Distillers has an ongoing partnership with the North Dakota Farmers Union, where they source a large portion of their ingredients. This partnership takes sustainability at the restaurant to a new level beyond just the Farm to Table “trend”, and allows partner farmers to have a larger stake in what they sell to the Farmers & Distillers team.
According to Brian, a big part of maintaining sustainability in the Farmers & Distillers kitchen is building a culture of “buy in” within the team. This involves making sure everyone in both the kitchen and front of house are on the same page – especially when it comes to the underlying mission.
“[The mission is about] really showing and being passionate about the difference between what we do and the alternative – and why we take the money, take the effort, and take the time to go do things a different way.”
Through this mission, Farmers & Distillers has a holistic approach to sustainability, which is especially impressive when you consider the sheer size of the brand spanning multiple locations.
In addition to diverting organic waste, Farmers & Distillers operates within a LEED certified building. Acquiring a LEED certification involves utilizing sustainable building materials and systems while focusing on energy conservation. These changes within the facility make a big difference because the impact is magnified to a large scale through the seven Farmers & Distillers locations.
According to Brian, this impact is possible because the Farmers & Distillers team has a focus on channeling their loud voice through a relatively “mom and pop” type mindset.
This loud voice, though, also makes it possible for Farmers & Distillers to make a large impact even without using sustainability as a big component of their marketing strategy. Brian shared their stance on this: “When it comes to our sourcing and our relationship with North Dakota Farmers Union, we try to make it known but we’re not going to stamp it on people as they come through the door.”
In terms of helping other restaurants to adopt similar sustainability initiatives, Brian recognized that not all chefs may be in a position to make a significant amount of changes. For individuals in this position – that may be stocked and funded by members of the industry that aren’t willing to make meaningful changes – Brian circled back on his belief in the power of awareness. Learning “what our industry does to the world, and how we can try to change that” is a huge step in the right direction.
Even while recognizing the limitations some chefs are up against, Brian remains hopeful about the future of the restaurant industry. “There’s going to be a point where we can’t do it the same way we’ve been doing it.”
Thank you Brian, and Farmers & Distillers, for your dedication to spreading awareness about the importance of sustainability in restaurants of all sizes, and for being good examples for other restaurants in the region who might be interested in making similar changes.
By: Sara Mack, Marketing Manager