At Vancouver's trendy Coast Restaurant, cruise-ship tourists and executives in town for meetings know exactly where their dinner comes from: The names of the Vancouver Island fishermen and oystermen who caught their fare are listed on the menu.
That direct relationship is a hallmark of the slow-food movement, and business districts, with the highest concentration of celebrity chefs and fine dining establishments, are pushing the movement forward. It's good news for business travellers: Wherever you can fly to in North America, you can now eat a "sustainable" meal, cooked to the rhythm of seasons using ethically produced, local ingredients. And more restaurants are becoming certified by programs such as the Vancouver Aquarium's Ocean Wise or the Green Restaurant Association.
Based in Boston, the Green Restaurant Association has recognized 265 restaurants across the U.S. - in many of the cities that are travel hubs, such as New York, Atlanta, Chicago (and one in Canada: The Guesthouse Restaurant in Lethbridge, Alta.). Mario Batali alone has had 13 Los Angeles and New York restaurants in his empire certified green. And a new Canadian organization, called Leaders in Environmentally Accountable Foodservice, launched last month with its first LEAF-certified restaurant: Calgary's River Café.
Ocean Wise is the other stamp indicating eco-minded fare. It started in 2005, at the urging of Rob Clark, executive chef of Vancouver's C Restaurant, who approached aquarium scientists seeking assurance that seafood on his menu was not endangered or overfished. Now, there are at least 800 Ocean Wise restaurants and hotels nationally, plus food suppliers, caterers, universities and stores - and certifications are doubling every year.
"Green" restaurants prioritize reducing, reusing and recycling; slow food celebrates fair-trade relationships and the convivial experience of a meal. But the philosophies often overlap.
"Every restaurant we deal with has a chef with a set of morals who wants to the do the right thing," says Steve Johansen, co-founder of Organic Ocean Seafood Inc., which supplies Ocean Wise-certified sustainable seafood to Coast, C Restaurant, One Hundred Days (the pop-up resto at OPUS Vancouver Hotel) and many other elite nosh spots, including Canoe Restaurant and Bar in Toronto and Social in Ottawa.
As a suggestion for where to eat responsibly, Johansen publishes his entire customer list online. Where there is line-caught fish (instead of netted with plenty of accidental "bycatch") and trap-caught B.C. spot prawns, count on being served antibiotic-free meats and organic veggies as well, he reasons. Case in point: Among Organic Ocean's customers is the carnivorous Black Hoof in Toronto. "It's all about the love, it really is," Johansen says.
Ocean Wise, LEAF and the Green Restaurant Association all have searchable online databases. Hotel concierges are another resource: For instance, Ku Nakanelua, of the W Hollywood hotel, likes Los Angeles eco-eateries RH Restaurant and BLVD 16.
And chefs who cook "slow" often eat that way: They can be plumbed for their resto picks as well. Chef David Chrystian, who grew up on a fruit farm and now leads Victor Restaurant and Lounge at Hotel Le Germain Toronto, puts Rouge Restaurant in Calgary and Toronto's Reds Bistro and Wine Bar "at the top" of his list of sustainable eateries. In his own menu, Chrystian calls attention to Toronto's ethnic diversity - another tenet of slow food - with items such as Korean barbecued short ribs with locally grown kimchi.
"Why should we serve strawberries and asparagus in winter, when you could change a menu four times a year and support family farming as a noble profession," he asks. That approach appeals to green-principled young executives - "the up-and-comers racing around the world" - who stay at his hotel, he believes.
Reds Bistro, meanwhile, sources 90 per cent of ingredients from Ontario or through sustainable channels such as Ocean Wise, according to executive chef Michael Steh - who admires C Restaurant and the Fairmont Royal York Hotel's EPIC Restaurant, in Toronto.
For inspiration, Arlene Stein, the co-chair of Slow Food Toronto, recommends contacting B.C.'s Green Table Network, Savour Ontario or the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance.
Before flying to a different city, Stein suggests researching pre- or post-meeting culinary tourism opportunities there. Toronto's Evergreen Brick Works, where Stein is program director, attracts prominent "slow" chefs including Steh and Chrystian for an annual slow-food picnic in early October. Other popular events are the annual Ocean Wise Seafood Chowder ChowDown, at the Vancouver Aquarium, and a new ChowDown at the Fairmont Royal York, both in November. In the U.S., there's COCHON 555, an annual 10-city chef competition in tribute to heritage pigs and family farms.
For American cities, Brady Lowe, a frequent-flying foodie who organizes COCHON 555, vouches for Bourbon Steak at The Four Seasons in Washington; Chez Panisse and 4505 Meats in San Francisco; Hearth and Del Posto in New York; and Dynamic Dish in his hometown of Atlanta.
Says Lowe: "You can't beat farm-fresh menus with skyscraper views."
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