At a time when “sustainable” and “local” are standard themes for many restaurants, Calgary’s River Café pushes its commitment to this approach, building sustainability practices and shrinking the range of where it acquires ingredients.
While working over the past 28 years to create a restaurant with as gentle an environmental footprint as possible, proprietor Sal Howell has embraced waste-reduction programs, limited water use, composting and urban agriculture, and switched to using only green energy—wind-generated electricity and a form of natural gas produced by decaying organic matter in landfills.
Her efforts have led to River Café earning certification from the Leaders in Environmentally Accountable Foodservice (LEAF) organization.
But it’s the move to close off the restaurant to ingredients from beyond Canadian borders—and, to a greater extent, focus on those only available in Alberta and B.C.— that has really exemplified Howell’s mission. Outside of allowing chocolate, coffee and a handful of other items, Howell has pushed chef Matthias Fong and his team to look to what they have nearby instead of what’s available through food-supply companies.
Fong has embraced these limitations. There are no lemons in the River Café’s kitchen; citrus has been replaced by the surrogate tang of local sumac. Salt comes from Vancouver Island, and the discovery of a grower in B.C.’s Lower Mainland means Fong is once again able to have rice on the menu—which he turns into a porridge-like play on risotto. Standards such as pepper, soy sauce and olive oil have also been replaced by locally sourced options, many emerging from Fong’s experiments, such as vinegar created from beer-tap runoff.
This is not a new approach—it’s a return to a deeply rooted way of eating and cooking where cuisine is dependent on what is close at hand. At River Café, that means Canadian cuisine at its finest, dishes that showcase local ingredients to their best, with the smallest possible carbon footprint. Which makes River Café our Eco-Friendly Restaurant of the Year!