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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Respecting Surf and Turf

Hotel Metro’s green kitchen

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When you think about the energy consumed by one restaurant in terms of the waste generated and the resources used—food, electricity, water, gas—it’s a significant amount. And that’s just one restaurant on one block of one street in one city of one state, in just one country. With each level of expansion, the numbers multiply to quantities that are difficult to comprehend.

Executive chef Jerry Garcia of Hotel Metro has committed to removing himself and his kitchen from that dizzying equation. “With chefs, it’s hustle and bustle every day and we often don’t have time to step back and really think about where the food is coming from. It’s time we do that,” Garcia says. “When I put my menu together, I really focused on local, organic and all-natural foods with an emphasis on fish caught in a sustainable manner.”

Drift netting is the pinnacle of unsustainable fishing and something Garcia avoids at all costs. It is a technique that uses large un-anchored nets, some as long as 2.5 miles, to catch different species of fish. These nets, which can be lost at sea, indiscriminately snare ocean wildlife like dolphins, sharks, sea turtles and birds, causing starvation, laceration and suffocation. “Our American red grouper is line-caught, our trout is from a local, all-natural fish farm and we offer organic and sustainable steelhead salmon from British Columbia,” Garcia explains. “I won’t even bring tuna in-house because dolphins are snared in nets with the way most of the world catches that fish.”

The kitchen at Hotel Metro respects turf as much as it does surf. “We not only care how the animals were raised and fed, but how they’re slaughtered as well,” Garcia says.

He uses Smart Chicken, a company that forgoes the common method of slaughter that includes hanging chickens upside-down by their shackled legs and then dipping them in an electrified water-bath system to stun them before they are killed.

“That’s why there’s a label of ‘percentage of water added’ on packages of raw chicken,” Garcia notes. “When you shock a muscle, it tightens and stays tough. Smart Chicken uses natural gases, which puts the chickens to sleep, so they’re more tender and juicy. And since there’s no added water, you’re getting more volume for what you’re paying.”

In addition, Garcia uses organic lamb from Iowa and organic Berkshire pork. Whereas organic chicken is better tasting, organic, grass-fed beef hasn’t turned that corner yet. The meat’s flavor is different and its texture tougher than its sedentary, grain-eating counterparts.

To avoid the environmental downfalls that come with non-organic agribusiness— nutrient depletion of the soil and drain-off from chemicals like fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides—Garcia works with a liaison that connects local restaurants with local organic farmers. Hotel Metro’s produce isn’t 100% organic yet, but the chef expects it will be when growers harvest this season’s crops. The hotel is in the process of building a rooftop garden, where herbs, edible flowers and tomatoes will grow for use in the kitchen.

Hotel Metro is certified through Travel Green Wisconsin, a program that recognizes, reviews and certifies tourism businesses that have made a commitment to continuously improve their operations in order to reduce their environmental impact. The hotel uses eco-friendly cleaning supplies, paper products made from recycled paper, biodegradable to-go containers made from recycled material and water pitchers instead of bottled water. It separates and recycles waste and repurposes leftover food items through donation.

“As chefs and restaurants, we have the ability to make changes,” Garcia says. “I’ve created a green menu not only to feature organic and sustainably grown foods, but to also make our customers aware of why we’re doing it.”

411 E. Mason St., Milwaukee. Call (414) 272- 1937 or visit www.hotelmetro.com.