April 2011 Issue
This month, the Ohio Program of The Nature Conservancy teams up with local chefs to educate diners about the benefits of eating sustainably raised foods.
The free veggie burger has become an Earth Day tradition at the Northstar Café
. On April 22, thousands will line up at the restaurant’s three Columbus-area locations for a complimentary Northstar Burger, a patty made of organic brown rice, black beans, beets and chipotle spices that is grilled, topped with white cheddar and served with a salad of organic greens.
“It’s a thank you to our guests, really, a celebration of our being in the business,” says Darren Malhame, brother of co-founder Kevin Malhame and one of the restaurant’s 21 partners.
This year, however, the sandwich will come with a side of knowledge. Northstar Café is printing up special Earth Day menus with information about sustainable dining — that is, enjoying food that is raised, obtained and processed in a way that minimizes or negates its impact on the environment.
The three Northstar eateries — along with The Greenhouse Tavern
in Cleveland and the Green Dog Cafe
in Cincinnati — are participating in “Taste of Conservation,” an outreach initiative launched by the Ohio Program of the Nature Conservancy
, an organization that works to protect ecologically important lands and waters in 50 states and 30 countries. The nonprofit is partnering with the ecologically conscious restaurants during the week preceding Earth Day to educate the public about sustainable dining through menu inserts, “green” recipes, blogs and interactive features on the Conservancy’s website. Indeed, the eateries provide valuable lessons on eating green through their very operations, along with tasty incentives for implementing them.
“A lot of the folks who go to these restaurants already understand the importance of sustainable dining,” notes the Conservancy’s executive director, Josh Knights. “But a lot of the people go simply because the food is outstanding.”
The preparation of those delicious meals, for example, begins with buying ingredients from sources close to home. Malhame’s definition of “local” is close enough for the farmer to personally deliver what he or she produces — usually within an hour’s drive of Columbus. Knights points out that local produce and meats are not only fresher but require less fuel to transport from farm to table, in turn reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.
Buying local also means buying in season, according to Jonathon Sawyer, chef-owner of The Greenhouse Tavern. His winter menu is heavy on dishes made with produce that is grown in local hothouses or “winters really well,” like apples, potatoes, turnips and other roots.
“There are some things that are just impossible,” he admits. “I really wish that we could cook without lemons, limes or artichokes. But I just don’t feel like we could ever do that.”
Malhame and Sawyer also try to buy as much organic meat and produce as possible. (According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “the principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems.”) According to Nature Conservancy literature, “nitrogen and phosphorus from row-crop fertilizers are a significant source of pollution in many Ohio waterways.” Similarly, conventional agricultural practices can cause soil erosion.
Sawyer’s sole source of organic chicken is Lamp Post Farms, a Columbiana County operation that uses pasture rotation to help control parasitic worms in its livestock. “They don’t eat corn or fish maw — they just eat insects, clover and grass,” he says. He sends his cooks out to the farm every weekend to do chores and help slaughter chickens. “It gives them a respect for the animal,” he explains.
Part of Sawyer’s definition of “respect” includes using the whole animal. The Greenhouse Tavern menu includes crispy hominy with pork-shin cracklings, roasted pig’s head and a “fifth quarter,” a butchering term that Sawyer defines as “whatever falls out when an animal is cut into four pieces.” Depending on the day, the “fifth quarter” could be chicken liver pate, pig’s heart tartar or soft-scrambled calves’ brains. On the tables are crocks of meat butter, leftover scraps of meat cooked down in animal fat.
The Nature Conservancy also suggests that meat eaters “go vegetarian” a few times a week. Knights, for example, eats meat only as an evening meal. He points out that it takes over 5,200 gallons of water to produce a pound of conventionally raised beef but only 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat.
“There’s about a billion people on the planet right now who are looking to raise their standard of living,” he says. “A lot of them want to emulate the American diet. If you’ve got a billion more people eating the way that 300 million or so Americans do, it will have a huge impact on the world’s environment.”
For more information about The Nature Conservancy’s sustainable dining initiative, visit nature.org/ohio.
Heirloom Tomato Salad
Recipe courtesy of Kevin Malhame,
Northstar Café, Columbus
| Serves 2
Northstar Café founder Kevin Malhame loves to make an entire meal of heirloom tomatoes, particularly when they’re purchased just off the vine at local farmers markets in late summer. Ripe tomatoes are essential. “Always select tomatoes that feel heavy and tender — much softer than conventional red slicers,” he advises. He adds that they should be sliced just before serving. “Heirloom tomatoes start to release their juices the moment they are sliced,” he warns. “They will quickly turn into a wet, soggy mess if you slice them ahead of time.”
2–3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon vinegar (sherry, balsamic or cider)
1 teaspoon prepared mustard, any kind
1 teaspoon honey or cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried herbs (oregano, basil,
herbes de Provence)
1 small clove garlic, finely minced
2 pounds heirloom tomatoes, mixture of colors and varieties
salt and pepper to taste
parmigiano reggiano, fresh goat cheese or blue cheese crumbles for garnish
fresh basil for garnish
Whisk or blend in a blender olive oil, vinegar, mustard, honey or sugar, herbs and garlic. Core the tomatoes and cut out any blemishes, then slice the tomatoes in 1/2-inch-thick to 1-inch-thick slices. Arrange different colors and varieties of tomato slices on two plates, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, and top with thick curls of parmigiano reggiano, dollops of fresh goat cheese or crumbles of blue cheese. Drizzle with dressing, garnish with fresh basil and serve immediately with a fresh loaf of crusty bread.