THE DELICIOUS REVOLUTION.
Combating climate change directly, a San Francisco restaurant created a restaurant as a model of an ideal food system.
By Irene Moore
The Perennial is a San Francisco restaurant and bar founded with a specific mission: to chart a more sustainable path for the restaurant industry. It is the ambitious brainchild of co-founders Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz, a husband-and-wife team known for having created popular spots in the Mission District such as Mission Street Food, a pop-up they created in a Guatemalan street cart, which turned into Mission Chinese Food, as well as the philanthropically minded Commonwealth.
‘Sharing information and building a network of sustainable businesses, I think we can make a pretty big change.”
The cooking activist couple founded The Perennial in 2016 because they wanted to create a restaurant that could be a model of an ideal food system, sustainable in creative ways, environmentally friendly, with a minimal carbon footprint. They are convinced that the solution to climate change reform is in food system reform. Their goals are admittedly idealistic: “We recognize that our particular business is not going to impact the rate of climate change,” Leibowitz said in Edible magazine. “But in talking about these issues, sharing information and building a network of sustainable businesses, I think we can make a pretty big change.”
They have been certified as a San Francisco Green Business Innovator, one of only four businesses certified in the city, and the only restaurant. The San Francisco Green Business Program is a free one-stop source for all the sustainability resources the City and County of San Francisco has to offer. The program offers 3 levels of recognition (Participant, Certified, and Innovator) to help businesses take the next step on their sustainability journey, no matter where it begins.
The Perennial has also merited a top category in the Eat REAL certifications, a movement of change-makers passionate about disrupting the food system and delivering significant positive social impact.
Many of their practices are drawn from the environmental impact analysis performed by Zero Foodprint, The Perennial’s non-profit partner. Zero Foodprint is an organization whose goal is to help restaurants lower and offset their greenhouse gas emissions by offering environmental impact assessments. Zero Foodprint’s assessment showed that regenerative ingredient sourcing reduced The Perennial’s carbon impact to half of what it would have been in a conventional restaurant.
After a year or so, The Perennial’s opening chef decided to leave the industry and co-founder Anthony Myint invited Michael Andreatta to join him as co-chef. Together, they have forged a collaborative cooking style, reinventing the classics with a vision to sustainability. The New American menu features carefully composed plates with ingredients such as Beef Tartare & Grasses, bee pollen, lavender, and kernza crouton.
Sustainable practices are built into the Perennial’s blueprint. Their seafood is grown or caught sustainably. They source fresh vegetables from local farms, or grow many ingredients in the restaurant’s own rooftop garden. The chefs also choose vegetables from the 2,000 square-foot aquaponic greenhouse that they operate in Oakland. Aquaponic agriculture raises plants and fish in a mutually beneficial system, using one-tenth the amount of water per unit of land than soil based farming, and is four to six times more productive. In what is referred to as a “closed-loop urban farm,” kitchen scraps are sent to the greenhouse where worms compost the waste. The worms then become fish food, with fish feasting on the food-scrap-stuffed worms. Then the fish help fertilize a crop of vegetables and herbs used by the restaurant.
Since vegetables play the starring role here, the restaurant had to think about serving meat.
Despite the fact that meat is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, they decided that to operate at the level they wanted and to draw in a larger crowd, their menu would have to appeal to more than just environmentalists. So they included meat on the menu, yet in carefully composed plates that pay attention to portion size, in an effort to change their guests’ relationship to meat serving sizes. They also often use meat as a flavor accent only. They butcher in-house as part of a climate beneficial nose-to-tail meat program, which utilizes the entire animal and reclaims the value of underloved cuts of meat, creating rich broths, luscious pates and complex charcuterie with them.
The restaurant serves flavorful, grass-fed meat from ranches that prioritize ecology and animal welfare, such as beef from the Stemple Creek Ranch. The beef is “carbon-farmed,” a new type of ranching protocol developed by the Carbon Cycle Institute, utilizing compost and managed grazing—which means that cattle graze on rangeland with compost-treated grasses—perennial grasses that store the carbon in their roots. The Perennial also uses milk from a dairy that is also carbon-farmed.
Poultry is sourced from Full-Tilt Farms. Full-tilt Farms is a collaborative project between Stueve Organic & Cream Co Meats. Mobile coops rotate daily to give the growing birds access to fresh grass, clover, and grubs on the Stueve family’s CCOF and Demeter biodynamic certified pasture. Duck is often featured on the menu as Roasted Full-Tilt Duck with mandarin, fennel, kale, and strawberries.
The restaurant’s delicious, crusty country-style loaves of bread are made of Kernza, a perennial type of wheatgrass with a carbon-capturing root system, thereby helping convert greenhouse gases into healthy soil with lower environmental impact. The Land Institute developed Kernza through natural breeding as a potential replacement for conventional wheat to shift agriculture towards perennial polycultures instead of annual monocultures that do not support maintenance of farmland biodiversity.
The Perennial’s building and equipment utilize efficient design and repurposed building materials to lower the carbon footprint. The restaurant’s ceiling is lined with wood salvaged from the construction of posts in the dining room recovered from the nearby Transbay Terminal renovation. Everything in the restaurant was chosen specifically for sustainability and was thought out down to the last detail, from the chairs to the refrigerator in the bar, to the energy-efficient appliances and equipment such as pots that heat up more quickly to save energy. Even the paper menus are printed with ink that can be safely eaten by worms, so that when they wear out they can be sent to the compost bin.
Behind the popular bar, the cocktails are mixed in advance to save water. There is a copper still for making essential oils from citrus, etc. to reduce waste in the bar. Discarded ingredients are recycled into a new purpose: Distilled and flavored water is made by recycling lemon zest and rose petals; lemons slightly used for clarifying a menu item are repurposed and candied with bitters; leftover juice might become a fruit sherbet to be used in a punch. Cocktails have imaginative names such as “Grab ’Em By the Pisco” and “Sick Beets, Bro.” The bar also offers Long Root Ale, a popular beer made with Kernza.
The Perennial is incorporated as a California benefit corporation, which means it has a special focus on modeling and creating best-practice benchmarks for environmental and sustainable solutions in restaurants.
The Perennial’s plans for the future are focused on broadening the sustainable movement, making an effort to involve farmers, ranchers, scientists, chef policy makers, educators and donors. They want to spread awareness of environmental concerns and solutions in the restaurant industry and the food system, and create funding for these organizations.
The Perennial is involved in a non-profit sister organization, Perennial Farming Initiative, to support progressive agriculture on the production side. Projects include compost drives for carbon farming, connecting farmers interested in regenerative grains and encouraging aquaponic systems by connecting aquaculture with agriculture.
Could this be the moment for a delicious revolution? “Food is our best weapon against climate change,” said Karen Leibowitz in the San Francisco Chronicle. “Let’s not waste it. Let’s get on it.”