Behind the scenes today’sBetonybears little resemblance to what the restaurant was seven months ago. The birth of executive chef Bryce Shuman's daughter, now 2, made him realize that being a chef “is not just about shaking a pan cooking a vegetable and adding a little bit of salt.
“It’s more about, ‘I am crafting and creating an entire menu for people to grow,’” he continues. “We have a lot of responsibility to each other.”
That meant when Shuman decided to make his kitchen more sustainable — he thinks of it as respecting the ingredients and the people who grow them — he wanted to do it in a way that would unite and empower his staff.
First, the waste had to stop. Shuman decided he didn’t want to throw food in the garbage anymore, which can be difficult in a fine-dining setting. “We really are focused on luxury and refinement and these sort of things; as a result, we have a lot of [scraps],” he notes. “We might trim the artichoke. There’s bits of ramps that maybe we wouldn’t put on a plate. It’s not garbage, it’s still good food, so we need to find a way to preserve it.”
This simple goal spawned several projects, beginning with a pantry devoted to fermentation where vinegars, pickles, misos and even a spreadable andouille sausage are made. “We put dishes on the menu and forced ourselves to use these techniques,” Shuman says.
But there are always bits left over that can’t be used — so Betony started composting, which has since escalated to include a proprietary aeration system. “The funny thing is is we’re like, ‘OK, we’ve got the compost here, guess we’re gonna have to grow something,’” he laughs. “Which is kind of the most backwards way any chef comes to having a garden.” There’s one of those now, too.
All of these projects came from the kitchen staff pulling together to figure them out. Instead of bringing in experts, everyone contributed their knowledge and are experimenting together to fill in the gaps.
Their successes are being preserved in Betony’s new Library for inspiration and training to pass along to new staff. “Being a chef,” Shuman sums up, “is creating a whole world in which we can be successful. We’re expanding our culture and our horizons.”