Green Gastronomy: Sqirl Review
Jessica Koslow (left), owner of Sqirl; dishes at the restaurant
By Mirelle L.
April 23, 2019
In this column, I will be reviewing a wide variety of LA restaurants, focusing on both their food and sustainability, specifically how they manage their waste, how they source their food, and their use of disposable materials. My goal is to shed light on the challenges restaurants face when dealing with sustainability as well as the innovative solutions that are being created.
Sqirl, Los Angeles
Waste: The restaurant’s commitment to sorting and reducing waste.
Disposables: The restaurant's use of disposable materials such as paper and plastic.
Compliance: The restaurant’s willingness to accommodate customer requests for sustainability.
Sourcing: The restaurant’s ingredient sourcing and commitment to best farming practices
Since its opening in 2012, Sqirl has been one of LA’s hippest restaurants, with food that is both visually stunning and delicious. The sorrel rice bowl, one of Sqirl’s most iconic dishes, is a perfect example of the restaurant’s use of unconventional ingredients and flavor combinations. The ricotta toast is another favorite and comes topped with a rainbow of homemade jams. Sqirl, which began as a jam company, still makes all of their jams right next door to the restaurant.
Much of Sqirl’s menu is based around food preservation; as owner and chef Jessica Koslow explains, her career in food began with working at Bacchanalia, a restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia. Food preservation is deeply ingrained in the cooking traditions of the South, and Koslow has continued to incorporate these methods in her cooking, not only reducing food waste but also adding another level of flavor to the food. “When we’re talking about jam, we’re using the entire fruit, from the juice to the rind,” Koslow explains. Sqirl also donates their cooking grease to Further, a company that turns it into soap. You can learn more about that here.
While Sqirl is full of ingenuity when it comes to eliminating food waste, it still struggles with managing recycling and disposable materials. Managing a small but incredibly busy restaurant like Sqirl can be very time consuming, so it’s hard to make sorting through recycling a top priority. Sqirl still manages to recycle some materials such as cardboard and brings their own crates to the farmers’ market whenever possible.
The restaurant’s popularity is both a blessing and a curse, as they often run out of glasses and mugs, forcing them to resort to plastic and paper cups, even for drinks that aren’t to-go. However, they do provide biodegradable straws and paper napkins only upon request, which reduces the use of disposables.
Koslow brought up how companies like Postmates and Doordash have impacted to-go culture. “When someone calls to place an order to go, our first question is ‘Do you need napkins and utensils?’ But if we don’t have a relationship with the customer and are going through a third party, we have to give them napkins and utensils,” she explains. However, when customers do order in person, the restaurant is eager to accommodate their requests. “We once had someone come in for a sorrel rice bowl, but she wanted them for the entire week, so she brought five containers for us to fill.”
Although the menu has some animal products, there are many plant-based options. All of Sqirl’s produce is fairly local; they go twice a week to the farmers’ market, where the farmers come from central California. When I asked if their produce is organic, Koslow explained the complexity of this subject. Some of the farmers they work with are not certified organic, but this doesn’t mean they’re using pesticides. They simply can’t afford the organic certification. Koslow thinks that more important than the certification is the restaurant’s relationship with the farms and knowing firsthand that they meet their standards. For example, the citrus farm Sqirl uses is not certified organic, but Koslow has visited the farm and knows that they practice a sustainable, biodynamic method of farming. All of Sqirl’s milk and cream comes from Strauss in northern California, a company that is also committed to sustainability.
The restaurant is also known for its unique pastries, which, as Koslow explains, can be a challenge when dealing with sustainability, as the ingredients tend to be more heavily processed and packaged. Even so, she and pastry chef Sasha Piligian have made progress with their use of local flour, fermented local honey, and lots of local produce.
When talking to Koslow, it’s clear that she takes the issue of sustainability very seriously. “Being environmentally friendly is so important and so hard,” she affirms. “We’re not doing well enough.” Although there’s definitely still room for improvement, Sqirl is already ahead of the game when it comes to awareness of these issues and a willingness to do something about it.