For the first time, The MICHELIN Guide is recognizing restaurants in its selection that are committed to sustainable gastronomy through ingredient sourcing, waste and energy management and employee well-being. The first class of sustainability distinctions in California were announced during the Family Meal virtual event on October 27th.
“Green Stars” were awarded to seven chefs and restaurants, including: Chef Thomas Keller for The French Laundry, Chef Alice Waters for Chez Panisse, Chef Dominique Crenn for Atelier Crenn, Chef Michael Tusk for Quince, Chef Kyle Connaughton & Katina Connaughton for Single Thread, Chef Matt Kammerer for Harbor House and Chef Nancy Silverton for Osteria Mozza.
Here's a look at why Harbor House was selected for this distinction.
Harbor House is the youngest restaurant among The MICHELIN Guide’s first class of sustainability distinctions in California. Though first established in 1916, after a series of ownership changes over the years, the property closed in 2013 for a complete refresh. Five years later, in 2018, the luxurious renovated 10-room Harbor House Inn re-opened with a 25-seat dining room, led by Chef Matt Kammerer. A year later, the restaurant was awarded One MICHELIN Star.
Sustainability at Harbor House is less about superimposing new, regenerative systems onto an existing business model, and more about building something from the ground up to co-exist with the ecosystem. Creative inspiration for both the inn’s design and guest experience come directly from the surroundings of Elk, a cliff-side town in Mendocino County, three hours from downtown San Francisco.
As a result, a meal or a stay at Harbor House exudes a sense of place that only the very best, and most thoughtful kitchens will aspire to — from the seafood-centric menu, which reflects the restaurant’s oceanside vantage to the table top settings made from local raw materials like discarded abalone shells.
“Everything that we source is coming from our immediate surroundings; nothing is imported. The products are definitely most important,” Kammerer said at The MICHELIN Guide’s virtual Family Meal event in October. His team forages for seaweed in nearby tidepools, along with mushrooms, edible weeds and other low-impact ingredients, which eventually make it onto diners plates. The restaurant has an on-site organic garden and chicken coop and recently expanded to an additional 320-acre property.
Kammerer also acknowledges that relying on local ingredients alone is limited, and achieving real sustainability requires a big picture approach. “I can serve beef that is local but is not raised in a sustainable way, so that’s really not as powerful as really digging into who is raising this cow, where is it coming from, what are they feeding it, how are they processing it, how does it get to my restaurant,” he said in an interview earlier this year. This is why he has strong relationships with all of his suppliers, and why he chooses whole animal butchery, ensuring that nothing goes to waste.
But this kind of effort takes a considerable amount of planning and some non-traditional methods. For example, restaurant staff often pick up the day’s ingredients on their way to work rather than relying on delivery trucks. Clean water from daily prep (so called "gray water") is saved and used to quench the garden. The soil in the garden is further topped with wood chips from naturally felled local trees, which significantly reduces its water needs. Generally, the team operates with the same mindset: If it can be recycled, it will be recycled (and that includes spent wine corks).
While the absolute impact of skipping a truck route or two and saving leftover ice bath water may seem minimal in the grand scheme of things, for Kammerer, it’s about living by principle and sending a message. “If we can be on the forefront and inspire some people that’s a great start.”
To hear Chef Kammerer speak about sustainability and the future of the restaurant industry, visit this link to watch a recording of The MICHELIN Guide's virtual Family Meal event.
Hero Image: Chef Matt Kammerer. Photo by Brendan McGuigan.