In the past couple of years, bourgeois culinary attitudes have undergone an extreme makeover, with the tides turning from McNuggets to cage-free eggs, from Eggos to Annie’s. During cultural shifts such as this, where almost no one knows exactly how to do the right thing, and when diehards and dabblers spill raw milk over semantics, the search for a messiah to pass judgment over the rabble becomes key. In the absence of such a figurehead, I propose what I believe would be a 100 percent perfectly sustainable, carbon-neutral, locavore restaurant. (For the purposes of this mental exercise, we can assume that the restaurant exists in a vacuum outside of the Department of Health jurisdiction.)
Let’s call it the EcoSustainaBistro.
Upon entering the EcoSustainaBistro, diners’ senses will be assaulted by the sheer magnitude of chicken-themed paraphernalia in the restaurant. From the 5-foot tall fresco of a prairie chicken to the screenprinted rooster napkins, the decor declares decisively: “Thank God, you’re in the Midwest.” The rest of it is all foraged wood; EcoSustainaBistro’s owners spent weeks tromping up and down the banks of the Mississippi, building up a collection of stray boat fragments and driftwood. Every reclaimed table is topped with a soy candle, stuck artfully and artlessly in a vintage glass BubbleUp bottle. Imagine that Anthropologie, after an exceptionally raunchy night out, blew chunks all over the dining room.
Adjacent to this temple of gastrobation is a 1-acre garden plot and two greenhouses, which supply the restaurant with fresh produce year-round. The needs of the chef dictate the content of the gardens: cucumbers, peppers, and onions for pickles, for example. Nearby, a pigpen and a system of rabbit hutches fill out the remaining space. The pigs and rabbits eat all the food scraps that the tableside red wigglers can’t, and then some. In addition to their extensive raw food composting, the restaurant goes even further with its revolutionary carp toilets, an idea that the owners picked up during their travels to the Mekong Delta. The elimination of flushing toilets has reduced the restaurant’s water consumption by approximately 450,000 gallons a year.
Of course, the big seller at the EcoSustainaBistro is the chef’s 5-course tasting menu, which, after factoring in the carbon offset donations included in the final bill, adds up to about $200 / person. Though it may seem pricey at first glance, know that in the end, you’re saving money.
The first course, an amuse bouche, is the restaurant’s signature maple-glazed hissing cockroach on a stick. While it may seem like an exotic choice for a protein, diners can rest assured that the roaches are cultivated right there, in several glass aquariums kept in the basement of the restaurant. Insects are the worst-kept secret of the culinary world, beating out every other mobile protein source in every measure of sustainability. Because they can be kept in crowded conditions without ill effect, they provide an ideal answer to the “Feed the World” dilemma. Plus, they’re not at all cute so, really, does it even matter?
Next comes the salad course. Diners are invited to come outside to the restaurant garden to pick their own head of lettuce… but that’s not where the adventure ends! They will also be guided around the lot by the in-house certified wildcrafter, who will assist them in foraging the finest accents to their dishes. Once they get back to their tables, they’ll know that the sweat of hard work will make their lovely jumble of lettuces, ramps, lamb’s quarters, and wood sorrel taste even sweeter.
The fish course, a rusty crayfish- and zebra mussel-studded étouffée, takes advantage of the bounty of Minnesota’s invasive species, providing a tasty answer to the environmental quandaries that the state’s lakes and streams now face. The EcoSustainaBistro embraces the fledging invasivore movement wholeheartedly; the chef is currently developing techniques to transform the emerald ash borer into a viable dessert course.
Unfortunately, the restaurant’s meat options are of a highly limited availability, due to its excessively humane mode of slaughter. Each pig and rabbit must consent to death before the restaurant calls in the mobile slaughterhouse. To achieve this extraordinary landmark in animal rights, the chef and the animals have entered gentlemen’s agreement of sorts: If an animal butts its head against the bell in its enclosure, that means that it has finally chosen to give up its life for the restaurant’s diners. The final products, a breaded pig’s head torchon with house-made pickles and mostarda and braised rabbit with gooseberry flapjacks, are truly worthy of this noble sacrament. Before the entree is presented, the diner is treated to a reading of the animal’s name and life story, and a detailed list of its lifetime achievements. For an extra $100, the diner may watch the chef break down the carcass.
Finally, dessert comes in the form of a golden raspberry cane, brought out in a small pouch of organic compost. Once planted, the raspberry can be expected to bear fruit in 2 years. This course embodies the chef’s Zen Buddhist leanings, encouraging the diner to appreciate the art of delayed gratification. Perhaps the final message, that the best fruit is the one you grow yourself, is the most important takeaway of the chef’s tasting menu.
Diners may also elect to add another experience to their menu, playfully dubbed the “cheese” course. For a fee, the chef will come to their table and expound upon the locavore movement’s virtues, as well as those of the chef and the diner herself. He will gesture emphatically to the huddled masses pressed up against the restaurant’s windows, who regretfully cannot afford to participate in this incredible process. “We’re doing it all for them!” he’ll say. It is also an ideal opportunity for the diner to thank the chef for his hard work, and to be thanked by him in return. An additional gratuity of 3% is expected for each teardrop the chef sheds.
Though EcoSustainaBistro is not yet a reality, it lives as a dream in every foodie’s heart. We are ready and eager to pay for such a thing.