How Can Fine Dining Be Made More Sustainable?

The highest end of the culinary arts is also one that has become increasingly controversial and criticised as the world becomes more ecologically aware, and it has become increasingly clear that for fine dining to survive huge changes need to be made.

The sustainability quandary surrounding fine dining and the ethos of excess it often typifies was perhaps epitomised by a protest that took place in November at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant in Chelsea (as reported by The Guardian) by a group protesting the inequality endemic in establishments like his.

However, there are ways to help make restaurant fine dining more amenable to the future of the planet, which involves measures such as using ecologically sound wholesale aprons and focusing on local produce that has a far smaller carbon cost to transport to major philosophical shifts such as entirely carbon neutral menus.

Here are some of how fine dining restaurants have worked to make themselves more sustainable, and the best place to start is one of the first notable sustainable restaurants.


Farm To Fork Approach

Farm-to-fork, sometimes known as farm-to-table, was not invented by the then-revolutionary Chez Panisse restaurant in California, given that the concept of a restaurant being supplied by local farmers has existed since the dawn of civilisation.

However, its revival was highly popularised by Alice Waters in 1971, with her utter commitment to high quality and local providence, concepts that would eventually be adapted by other organisations such as the Slow Food Movement.

Whilst the restaurant’s influence has been less pronounced as other fine dining establishments use source as a selling point, it is a notable first and highlights how the biggest changes are often the simplest.


On-Premises Agriculture

Whilst Chez Panisse was sustainable through its increasingly elaborate network of local organic producers, Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York took a simpler approach and had much of their produce come from the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture itself.

The vegetables are grown at the center, the butter is made of cows brought up there and the meat is from local farms, whilst Dan Barber, head chef and leader of Blue Hill, often champions sustainable food.


Vegetarian Menus 

Alain Passard, a highly influential French chef, arguably made his boldest, biggest and most influential move when he fundamentally changed the menu of three Michelin Star restaurant L’Arpége in Paris.

In 2001, after years of serving traditionally meaty French cuisine, Mr Passard made the decision to switch to a vegetarian-only menu, supplied primarily from his own farms and taken to the restaurant as needed, with the farms themselves using natural pest control rather than pesticides.

The menu is not entirely vegetarian anymore, with seafood and meat dishes available, but the shift had a monumental effect on fine dining culture, with other highly touted vegetarian restaurants appearing throughout the world and consistently innovating in a sustainable and ecologically sound way.

Even with the reintroduction of meat and fish, the portions and number of menu items are significantly lower, and this commitment to organic seasonal produce has influenced many other chefs to follow his lead.

December 31, 2022 — Jacob Blakey