At his acclaimed Taranta Ristorante, located in one of Boston’s oldest neighborhoods, chef/owner Jose Duarte has implemented some new ideas that are improving both the environment and his bottom line.
“I’m not a tree hugger; I’m a business person,” Duarte says. “I’ve been in business eight years, and I’ve always tried to cut costs. Then I started to become aware of a trend — everything I read was green, green, green.”
In the past year, Duarte has joined the Green Restaurant Association™ (GRA), a non-profit organization that worked with him to implement the environmentally-friendly business practices necessary for Taranta to become a Certified Green Restaurant™.
The first step to becoming green, Duarte says, was banning Styrofoam from the restaurant entirely. Next, GRA consultant Becky Saggese did an assessment of Taranta and required four further steps be taken in 2007 for the restaurant to be certified. The steps were:
- Change all pre-rinse spray valves in the dishwashing stations to conserve water.
- Switch from wax candles to solar powered table candles.
- Install motion sensors in the bathrooms to minimize energy consumption by lighting and exhaust fixtures, and change out all light bulbs to energy-efficient bulbs.
- Recycle, and separate organic from inorganic materials to be converted into compost.
Duarte quickly learned how these and other small changes would not only earn him certification, but save some serious cash. For example, simply replacing paper towels with energy-efficient hand dryers in the restrooms is saving $1,300 a year. Each $19 energy-efficient light bulb saves him $25 a year in energy costs.
“By composting and recycling we cut our garbage (collection) bill 45 to 50 percent,” Duarte says.
What is he doing with all the savings?
“Right now the savings are a cushion to offset rising food costs,” he says. “Either we raise prices, cut portions or cut costs. We are cutting costs.”
Southern Italy Meets the Mountains of Peru
The 70-seat Taranta opened its doors in 2000. Its three-floor structure provides customers the option of a peaceful, private top-floor dining experience or the more lively atmosphere below, and gives the wait staff a “Stairmaster” type workout every night.
In the beginning, the menu was more traditional Southern Italian, and when Duarte, a native of Peru, first began adding ingredients from his native country he took a wait-and-see approach. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, leading to the melding of Italian and Peruvian cuisines offered on the menu today.
Pallares, a Peruvian lima bean, is often used in favor of Italian white beans in Taranta dishes, for example, because Durarte likes their creaminess. Yellow Peruvian potatoes are served with the grilled trout and the double-cut pork chop is glazed with rocoto, a Peruvian red pepper.
In order for customers to understand this fusion of cuisines, a glossary on the bottom of the menu explains the Peruvian ingredients.
Duarte showed he was not afraid to take a risk when he announced the marriage of Southern Italian and Peruvian cooking. He says the unique hybrid of cuisine, which plays out in such dishes as Gnocchi Di Yuca Al Ragu Verde Stile Secco Peruviano (gnocchi with a lamb ragu braised in a Peruvian corn cider), was actually easier for his peers to accept than some of his environmental measures.
Going Green Garners PR
One of the more visible aspects of Duarte’s commitment to conservation is his truck, which is fueled by used fryer oil collected from his and a neighboring restaurant. His business also turned out the lights for two hours on a busy Saturday night in March to participate in Earth Hour, a global event created by the World Wildlife Fund to symbolize that individuals can make a positive impact on climate change.
“Half of the other restaurant owners think I’m crazy,” he says.
Crazy like a fox it seems, since for the cost of a few extra LED exit lights, Duarte says 7-million television viewers saw the darkened Taranta on the news the night of Earth Hour and were made aware of the restaurant’s green status. Boston’s mayor Thomas Menino is also aware off Duarte’s efforts, recently bestowing a Green Business Award on the chef.
“Another advantage I have by going green is the press and the marketing,” he says. “The PR has been outrageous.”
Of course, first and foremost, Duarte says, he wants customers to come in for the food, like the Espresso Crusted Filet Mignon priced at $34, which is first seared in a hot pan over a natural gas flame and then baked in a natural gas oven. Another crowd pleaser is the $23 Petto Di Pollo, a chicken breast pan -roasted in a natural gas oven and stuffed with homemade mozzarella, spinach, mushrooms, hand-picked Peruvian Botija olives and served with crispy polenta and roasted tomatoes.
Restaurant ambiance is second in importance, Duarte says, and the cozy tables with solar-candle light flickering off the exposed-brick walls inside Taranta provide plenty of that. Then, after you achieve memorable food and atmosphere: “If they find out how much you are contributing to the environment, you’ve got them. It really creates customer loyalty.”
Taranta’s second floor dining room is lit by LED and CFL lights reflecting off the old building’s original brick walls. The tabletop candles are actually rechargeable solar-powered LEDs, and the paper tops are made from post-consumer recycled paper.
The Blue Flame is Green
The use of natural gas throughout the operation also contributes to Taranta’s “greenness.”
“I bought the restaurant eight years ago and fortunately all the cooking equipment was gas, which is already efficient, so I didn’t have to replace any of it,” he says. “Gas is absolutely better for cooking and our heating system is also high-efficiency gas.”
The efficiency of the water heating at Taranta has been improved with the installation of tankless natural gas water heaters.
“In January, our 100-gallon tank water heater broke, and the cost of replacing it with a similar tank was way over $10,000,” Duarte explains. “We then started research on what we could install that would be energy-efficient and environmentally friendly.”
To cover all of the restaurant’s hot water demands, Duarte had three tankless water heaters installed for about $8,000, plus he received a $300 rebate per unit from KeySpan Energy, which provides gas and electric service to more than 7 million customers in the New York Metropolitan area, upstate New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. He estimates Taranta will be using at least 40 percent less gas than with a tank water heater.
Low Flow is the Way to Go
Working with GRA, Duarte learned that a low-flow pre-rinse spray valve is one of the easiest and most cost-effective, energy-saving devices available for restaurants. Replacing a typical spray valve that flows up to three gallons of water per minute with a low-flow unit can save 60 gallons of water an hour.
“In addition to minimizing water consumption, water heating energy and sewer charges are also reduced,” Duarte explains. “It is amazing how much water you save, and also gas. Plus, our dishwashers love the product because it is easier for them to rinse dishes before running them through the dish machine. They get more water pressure in less time, but still use less water.”
Duarte is already selecting some of the products he sells at his restaurant based on their environmental impact. In November, he switched to Saratoga Springs bottled water from nearby Albany, New York from the previously offered water, which was imported from Italy.
“Some hard-core environmentalists wouldn’t want us to serve bottled water at all, but the customers want bottled water so we can’t drop it completely. We made a decision that was as green as possible and still a good business decision.
“Purchasing water from only 200 miles away, rather than 4,000, helps reduce the amount of air pollution and carbon dioxide associated with the transportation of the water,” he says. “Also, Saratoga Springs is a green operation — 100 percent of the electricity they use comes from wind power.”
Port made with organically grown grapes and fortified with organically grown brandy is also offered at Taranta along with certified organic coffees.
One of Duarte’s goals for the future is to buy more organic local products, including seafood and vegetables. He says while it’s not always economically feasible to buy that way now, as the number of restaurants demanding “green” products and ingredients goes up, availability will increase and prices will decrease.
There will always be a few ingredients in Taranta dishes that are not available locally, however, and it’s these ingredients that make the restaurant unique.
“Because we are a Peruvian-Italian restaurant we will always have to have some Peruvian ingredients,” Duarte says. “We have to import that part of the concept.
“We do what we can; that’s the way I look at it.”
Location: 210 Hanover Street,
Phone: (617) 720-0052
Fax: (617) 507-0492
Web site: www.tarantarist.com
Hours of Operation: Monday to Sunday
from 5:30 to 10:00 p.m.
Concept: Fine dining with a unique menu
Cuisine: A Fusion of Southern Italian and Peruvian Cuisine.
Owner: Jose Duarte
Avioli Ripieni D’Aragosta — ravioli of lobster and crab with a mascarpone cherry tomato sauce served with shrimp — $25. Costoletta Di Maiale Con Canna Di Zucchero E Rocoto — brined double cut pork chop with a sugar cane-rocoto pepper glaze served with a yucca piatella and a sauté of giant Peruvian corn, spinach and caramelized onions — $30.
Average customer ticket: $35 – $50
The Numbers Speak for Themselves
Chef/owner Jose Duarte has put his business practices at Boston’s Taranta under the microscope and found ways to make the operation as green as possible. The chef coats worn by the kitchen staff are made of organic cotton, for example, and the drinking straws are made of biodegradable cornstarch.
“For every business decision we make, we think green,” Duarte says.
And after many months of this mindset, he’s been able to compile the following numbers to quantify the effects of his efforts.
- Glass, metal and plastic recycled from Sept. 2007 to March 21, 2008 = 22,300 lbs.
- Cardboard recycled from Sept. 2007 to March 2008 = 3,710 lbs.
- Food waste (compost) from Nov. 2007 to March 21, 2008 = 12,400 lbs.
- Non-recyclable, non-compost material (garbage) from Sept. 2007 to March 21 2008 = 390 lbs.
Duarte says before implementing the composting and recycling program, all the restaurant’s waste was going to a landfill. Now garbage production has been reduced to 1.01 percent of the restaurant’s total “waste” and he is hoping to continue reduction by using biodegradable PLA (polylactic acid) cling wrap as soon as it comes to the market.
“Currently we are using normal plastic wrap and that is what is filling most of our garbage as it is very difficult to recycle,” he says.
Taranta Projected Annual Savings
Using an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calculator, Duarte was able to determine how all of the greening efforts made at Taranta are helping to reduce carbon emissions. The CO2 equivalent shown below is a way of realizing the total savings experienced as a result of environmentally sound practices. Because global warming is a major concern these days and CO2 emissions are a primary cause of global warming, the EPA calculator uses CO2 equivalency to demonstrate the level of impact certain actions make.
To see the impact changes at Taranta could have on the environment over the course of a year, Duarte calculated and projected the following annual savings:
|One of the more visible aspects of Jose Duarte’s commitment to conservation is his truck, which is fueled by used fryer oil collected from his and a neighboring restaurant.|
Volume composted = 127,400 lbs. per year
Total annual energy savings = 10.19 kWh
Metric tons of CO2 equivalent saved* = 44.1
Equivalent gallons of gasoline saved = 3,847 gallons
(Another way of looking at the savings is energy worth. Taranta’s composting efforts in one year, for example, are worth the fuel needed to travel from Boston to New York City in a Prius 422.28 times.)
Recycling — Cardboard
Volume recycled per year = 3.12 tons
Total annual energy savings = 14,629.68 kWh
Metric tons of CO2 equivalent saved* = 11.40
Equivalent gallons of gasoline saved = 1,291
Co-Mingled Recycling (Mainly Glass)
Volume recycled per year = 34,320 lbs. per year
Total annual energy savings = 13,573.56 kWh
Metric tons of CO2 equivalent saved* = 10.60
Equivalent gallons of gasoline saved = 1,198
Looking at these numbers it’s impotant to realize that Duarte’s utility bill is not going down because he is recycling (though it is going down for other reasons such as installing LED lighting); instead, his environmental footprint is shrinking. Less energy is expended by recycling and reusing products like cardboard as opposed to taking raw materials and starting from scratch to go through the energy intensive process of production.
Duarte’s 14,629 kWh saved is energy that the grid won’t have to produce. Thanks to Duarte’s efforts at Taranta, the local power plant won’t have to burn coal to make this energy, therefore less greenhouse gas is emitted. Those savings add up to some significant numbers over the course of a year — and the environment can breathe a sigh of relief.
*According to the EPA, Carbon Dioxide Equivalent is a metric measure used to compare the emissions from various greenhouse gases based upon their global warming potential (GWP). Carbon dioxide equivalents are commonly expressed as “million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (MMTCO2 Eq).” The carbon dioxide equivalent for a gas is derived by multiplying the tons of the gas by the associated GWP.