A responsible approach to fine dining: sustainability at LUX Restaurant
What are you interested to know when you consume animal-based products in a restaurant? For some time now, many people have been citing the origin of these products, and the answer to this is nowadays provided by the vendor’s obligation to provide information about the food they’re selling. Nevertheless, a lot has happened in the intervening period, which means that accurate information about the product’s origin is often somewhat lacking. In other words: just because it says ‘Switzerland’ doesn’t necessarily mean one is dealing with goods that have been produced in a fair and sustainable manner.
Shrimps from Vietnam
“For example, our shrimps come from Vietnam,” says Giedo Veenstra, Chief Culinary Officer at Zurich Convention Center who’s responsible for LUX’s strategic direction. “After many comparisons and a long period of testing, this turned out to be the most sustainable product if one takes people, nature, and the animals themselves into consideration.” This is because these particular crustaceans are bred without any additional feed or medication in a mangrove aquaculture which requires hardly any infrastructure and thus fits seamlessly into the natural environment.
Of course none of this is apparent when the declaration of origin simply states ‘Vietnam’, and this demonstrates how complex the topic of sustainability in the catering industry can be – and above all, this also applies to finding the right way to communicate the necessary details. How much must (or should) one declare so that patrons feel they aren’t being swamped with – or deprived of – information? How can this be done in such a way that they still have some choice in the matter? In short, how can one explain why they’re being offered shrimps from Vietnam? And should one have to explain this in any case?
“We want to inspire our guests, but not patronize them.”
Transparency and the opportunity to ‘opt out’
By providing QR codes on its menu, LUX has recently been offering its patrons the opportunity to learn more about sustainability and other relevant aspects. The code tells them about allergens and the energy value of each dish, and in the case of meat and fish their respective origins and associated CO2 emissions. However, if you don’t want to know about this you can simply ignore the code. “We want to inspire our guests, but not patronize them,” says Giedo Veenstra. This also applies to the distinctive range of main courses that dispense with meat or fish – but people should still have a choice. Eating out is ultimately a luxury where many people (including those who are very careful about what they consume) want to treat themselves to something. Nevertheless, these dishes should also demonstrate that treating oneself doesn’t actually have to involve meat or fish. It’s estimated that up to 50% of meat consumption is linked to the restaurant and catering sector, so this is a huge lever if one wants to achieve greater sustainability.
The CO2 emissions associated with a specific dish
But how can one actually determine the CO2 emissions that are associated with a particular dish? There are platforms for this purpose which calculate a figure based upon the list of ingredients. What one is looking at here are average values, because of course the actual emissions also depend on how local the ingredients are and whether or not they’re in season. This is why LUX also strives to use products that are as local and seasonal as possible so that the actual CO2 emissions tend to be below the stated value. There’s also a preference for meat from animals that are reared outside as well as fish that have been sustainably caught or sourced from certified aquacultures. “We work with the ‘Eaternity’ platform that’s also recommended by Gastro Stadt Zürich (a local caterers’ association). This topic is now becoming more important in the catering sector, and its potential has been recognized,” says Giedo Veenstra.
Small changes can help too
In addition to these major and relatively obvious levers, LUX is constantly working further on this issue and is also aware of the difference that seemingly minor adjustments can make. For example, it now only offers wine from Europe because the choice is sufficiently wide-ranging and the distances from the vineyards are comparatively small.
Supported by the crew
“Our crew is proud of our approach and is keen to contribute. We mainly have young people in the team who attach great importance to sustainability and make suggestions that we examine and often implement too. But what we don’t want are approaches that sound good at first yet achieve little or maybe even the opposite,” says Veenstra. “But that’s precisely what sustainability means: words must be backed up by taking appropriate action. We concentrate on the essentials so we can offer our guests some meaningful options. And of course we’re delighted if they notice and appreciate this.”