For Chef Richard Langston, owner of Café Vicino in Boise, ID, every day is Earth Day. From recycling glass bottles and cooking oil, to sourcing local food and giving back to his community, Chef Langston proves that sustainability is attainable, and necessary, for all independent restaurants.
Trading the Desk for the Stove
Chef Langston's food philosophy began as a child while feasting on fresh ingredients from his grandmother's garden in Louisiana. Despite this passion, his career as a professional chef didn't start until after attending Louisiana State University and moving to San Francisco for a corporate job. There, he discovered the food culture in the Bay Area and decided to trade in his desk for the stove, attend the California Culinary Academy, and pursue his career as a professional chef.
Since then, he has had much success in the restaurant industry, and particularly in the last nine years with Café Vicino.
What do you enjoy most about being a chef? The challenge of being creative – and when it pays off in a new and extraordinary dish.
What has been your greatest accomplishment so far in your career? As a chef/owner I have two hats – one is the chef’s hat and the other is a business owner’s hat. My two greatest accomplishments fall in each of those categories. As a chef, being nominated for a James Beard Best chef in the Northwest Award in 2014 was a huge compliment. As an owner, keeping my restaurant open, my employees happy and excited, and our guests coming back again and again throughout the last nine years despite economic ups and downs.
What types of offerings will we find on the menu? A contemporary take on regional Italian cuisine. Carbonara made with duck fat, prosciutto and poached egg; halibut encrusted with pistachios on roasted potatoes with a pomegranate syrup; grilled shrimp on risotto cakes and basil cream sauce; dried figs stuffed with gorgonzola and basil, wrapped in prosciutto with local honey.
What is your favorite dish? Braised pork shank with sauteed baby kale and pureed yams. It is soul satisfying!
You source the majority of your ingredients from local suppliers, and are a member of Think Boise First - a program that promotes local businesses and raises awareness of the value they bring to a community. What drives this passion for you? Growing up in the country with a lot of our produce supplied by our own family gardens or local gardeners and farmers set the bar pretty high in my childhood. The quality differences in locally produced foods versus commercially grown foods is huge. Buying locally has added benefits - it is economically good for the community in terms of jobs and supporting small business; food is always fresher because it hasn’t been sitting is a warehouse or on a truck for days; there is less waste because products come in to me fresher so the shelf life in my kitchen is longer – rarely does local food go bad before I can use it. In addition, the variety is great. Right now I am using a polenta made from heirloom Italian corn varieties that were once thought to be extinct but are now being grown locally by Next Generation Organics.
What are some of the challenges of sourcing locally, and how do you overcome those? The biggest challenge comes in distribution. I love working with small farmers and know a lot of them. However, they are farmers, not distribution specialists, packing specialists or marketing specialists. It takes a lot of e-mails and text messages with a lot of people to get products in the door.
You are committed to environmental responsibility. How do you reduce Cafe Vicino’s carbon footprint? We recycle as much as possible. Luckily we are next door to the Boise Co-op and they let us piggyback on their recycling efforts. Usful Glass picks up all of our empty wine, beer and glass bottles, and recycles them into drinking glasses that we in turn purchase for service.
Do you think it’s important that other restaurants source local ingredients to become more environmentally responsible? Absolutely. Independent restaurants are key to sustainability. As consumers see more and more examples in restaurants, those trends will get them to the farmer’s markets and local producers as well.
What advice do you have for other chefs and restaurant owners eager to go green? Get your staff on board for recycling and reducing waste. Choose environmentally sound take-out containers and service-ware.
What is your best advice that you would like to share? Appreciate and respect the people that you hire, set them up to succeed and they will make you a success.
Cafe Vicino is located at 808 W Fort St, Boise, ID 83702.
It doesn't take much to make a difference environmentally. Today on Earth Day, make a commitment to start composting your food scraps, team up with your local co-op or food bank, start a recycle program for your restaurant, or invest in earth-friendly disposables. Your customers, and the Earth, will thank you.
With a little mindfulness and compassion for our planet, every day can be Earth Day. Let us know in the comments how you're celebrating Earth Day!