Green Gastronomy: Palette Review
Molly Keith (left), owner of Palette
October 1, 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.
Palette, Los Angeles
Palette, which opened just two years ago, is located behind one of the many chic storefronts in Atwater Village and serves wholesome, delicious bowls. Co-owner and chef Molly Keith has spent practically her whole life working in the restaurant business, working as a head chef until she and her friend/business partner finally decided to open a restaurant of their own, with a focus on the power of food to heal, both in terms of people and the planet.
The process is simple: pick a protein, add grains, beans, some variety of seasonal veggies and herbs, choose from one of eight different flavorful sauces (or mix and match), and voila, you have a healthy, yet extremely flavorful and filling meal! On top of that, they also serve tea, fresh juices, and an amazing horchata. While there are meat options you can add such as bone broth or chicken, Palette is great for vegetarians and vegans as well.
All of Palette’s ingredients are from local organic farms, many of which practice regenerative agriculture. Regenerative agriculture is a type of farming that creates healthy soil and encourages biodiversity. One of the most well-known regenerative farms is Apricot Lane Farms, from which Palette sources a lot of their produce (for more on Apricot Lane Farms and regenerative farming, watch the documentary Biggest Little Farm). Palette always works directly with the farmers rather than through a supplier, which allows them to work with the farmers to improve sustainable packaging and shipping of ingredients. For instance, Palette gives the rubber bands that hold together bunches of vegetables back to the farmers to reuse. Keith says that she’s hoping to work with farmers to find a more sustainable way to package their lettuce, which currently comes in plastic bags.
About half of Palette’s orders are to-go, so while they have ceramic bowls for those who eat there, they still have to deal with the issue of to-go packaging. Palette’s containers are comprised of a cardboard bowl and a bioplastic lid. The bowls can go in the compost, but the lid has to go in the trash. It breaks down faster than regular plastic but can’t actually be composted or recycled. However, as Keith explains, “any kind of plastic that was used with food is not recyclable,” meaning neither regular plastic nor bioplastic, so bioplastic would still be the more sustainable option. Customers are nevertheless welcomed and encouraged to bring their own containers for getting food to go. Palette has metal straws for dining in, but bioplastic ones for takeout. However, Keith explained that she ordered these straws when Palette first opened and is still waiting for them to be used up before switching to a more sustainable alternative.
When it comes to handling food waste, Palette has it down. They use vegetable stems to either flavor their chicken stock or make delicious sauerkraut, bones to make bone broth, and rendered fat from the broth to cook other food in. They also serve any leftover rice from the day before since it’s still perfectly good to eat. Keith described how Palette’s unique setup allows for maximum sustainability. “We don’t have curated dishes, so whatever we have is what we put out. You don’t order preassembled dishes, you assemble them yourself, so we don’t waste any food.” Palette is meticulous when it comes to planning out their inventory so that they don’t get more food than they’ll need, and while they have general placeholders for the amount of food they need, they take whatever kind of produce the farmers give them. Any food scraps that are produced are composted, and they’re careful about separating any plastic or other non-compostable materials from the food scraps. They manage to create less than one bag of trash a day, which, for a restaurant, is pretty impressive. The trash Palette does create is mainly comprised of bioplastic containers, lettuce bags, and FDA required “disposable” gloves, something which Keith hopes will change in the future.
For customers, Palette has three bins: recycling, compost, and landfill. Each bin has a sign above it explaining what should go in there. Although it would be great if the landfill bin could be eliminated completely, until all products are recyclable and/or compostable, that bin is necessary to keep the compost and recycling running smoothly. “At Starbucks, they’ve taken landfill out completely but none of their products are recyclable or compostable,” Keith explained. This ends up mucking up recycling and compost systems, which teaches customers bad habits rather than teaching them how composting and recycling actually work. Educating people about sustainability is something Keith really believes in, whether it’s her customers or her employees. She says one of her goals for the future is to educate her staff about sustainability and how they can be more sustainable at work and in their personal lives. When asked what she would be willing to do to make Palette more sustainable, Keith replied, “Anything! I would do anything that anyone could tell me to do better! We are always looking to improve!”