|Low Impact: Chef/owner Marc Meyer (r.) and his co-owner wife, Vicki Freeman, make a big commitment to sustainability at NYC's Cookshop.|
Sustainable cuisine, while nothing new, has exploded in recent years. New York operator Marc Meyer pushes the envelope a bit further with his newest restaurant, Cookshop. Set in the city's West Chelsea neighborhood, sustainability defines not only the menu but the design and operation of this modern American establishment. Meyer, along with co-owners Vicki Freeman (his wife) and Chris Paraskevaides, collaborated with architect Erin Shilliday to create a comfortable, lightfilled space that is spare, yet cheerful and welcoming. Local artisans produced many of the furnishings, using only sustainable materials. The walls are decorated with handmade tiles, stained white oak frames the bar and lounge and customers relax in bamboo chairs made by a "green" furniture designer in Brooklyn. Menus are printed on recycled paper.
Behind the scenes, fruit and vegetable scraps are separated to be composted by a waste management company, and paper, glass, plastic and so on are recycled. Waste vegetable oil is donated to be converted into fuel. "We work with a recycler instead of a garbage company," Meyer says.
Meyer's reverence for local, sustainable foods is evident in Cookshop's chalkboards, which go beyond the routine list of daily specials. They honor " favorite farmers," the regional producers who inspire chef de cuisine Joel Hough's menu of seasonal favorites, including dry aged ribeye with pickled sweet and hot peppers and Vermont pasture-raised lamb with sunchokes, cipollinis and fried rosemary.
Beverages include a lengthy selection of New York and biodynamic wines (the latter are produced using organic, astrological and astronomical principles).
In Frank Bruni's two-star New York Times review of Cookshop shortly after it opened last fall, he pronounced it "a place where eating well and doing good find common ground."
Meyer learned his way around the kitchen in restaurants from New York to Rome, at An American Place under Larry Forgione and at Brasserie Savoy in San Francisco, where the emphasis on local products made a lasting impression. Back in New York in the early 1990s, he worked at Vick's Cafè and as a consulting chef for ARK Restaurants when he decided to go out on his own.
Visits to the city's Greenmarket provided the inspiration for his menu at Five Points, a 112-seat Mediterranean-influenced place with a European sensibility tucked away on a quiet Greenwich Village street that is a local favorite. Over the years, he has cultivated a network of local suppliers mainly by talking to the vendors at the market. "For me, it's not about how to get something exclusive from around the world, it's better to get the best from New York and Pennsylvania," he says.
When he opened Cookshop, it was an opportunity to ramp up his commitment to the environment, more a personal choice than a business decision.
"You must constantly evolve and learn in this business," he explains. "I try to use as many sustainable products as possible. I feel obligated as a human being to make these choices." Because some of those choices— like the furnishings at Cookshop— are not the most cost effective, "you don't put as much money in your pocket," he admits.
Do guests appreciate the efforts? It's hard to say. Most probably don't realize what they're sitting on or what the menus are printed on, but Meyer says that may not matter. "You still have to be a good restaurant," he observes. "You have to be about hospitality, value, quality and good food."—Megan Rowe