The Sustainable Kitchen

By Chef Shaun Behrens of Luna Red

Running and operating a sustainable kitchen is the most crucial part of what I do, it’s my personal charge.My ethics are to feed people responsibly with locally sourced products and environmentally friendly foods.I’m constantly learning new things and challenging myself in the realm of sustainability because you’re never done.Our environment is always changing and there are always new ideas and things you could be doing better.There’s also room to be more conscious and to do things that are gentler to the environment and for the integrity of the product you’re using - that’s important to me.

What It Means

Sustainability means a few things; it means green, long lasting, it’s a circular flow chart that gives the longest life possible to a product.When a product comes through the door, we use it tip to tail and hardly have any waste. In my kitchen we have a lot of cross-utilization on the menu and that is a huge part of sustainability.Fish, for instance, comes in the back door, it gets used for its raw properties first; ceviche, sashimi and similar items.Then a day later it becomes cooked or fried fish. We also utilize things from lunch to dinner, meaning we incorporate different menu items with the same ingredients from lunch to dinner.I’ve designed the kitchen and prep areas so that there’s not a lot of movement of product, because once you start to move it you lose it.

Do Your Homework

Chefs running a sustainable kitchen have to do their homework in order to make tough product sourcing choices. For example, from where we source seafood and proteins from the land – it’s probably the most difficult decision we have to make.Where do you find sustainable, green-rated shrimp?Everybody loves shrimp and probably will eat what’s on your menu but as part of being an ethical, responsible chef I think we have to source green rated products or good alternative products.So what we’re going through now at Luna Red is we’re trying to find a green-rated shrimp, that’s actually good to eat.I’ve found some and they don’t taste very good.Keeping in mind our carbon footprint we’re looking at various sources from Costa Rica, Vietnam, Louisiana and Santa Barbara.Santa Barbara has spot prawns, which are very seasonal.Vietnam, don’t know what happens there.In Louisiana there’s still some question about the environment because it’s where the oil spill was, however they are trying to rehabilitate, reintroduce and re-market the region as a clean and sustainable area.So we’ll probably end up sourcing our brown shrimp from Louisiana.Sourcing is a big one for sustainability.

A Little Compromise

Negotiating between your restaurant concept and menu and efforts to be sustainable in the kitchen is a compromise.You’re going to have to make certain financial decisions for your food cost budget while not giving up a lot of your philosophy, but you can’t be too much of a purist or else you’ll go out of business.My personal philosophy here in San Luis Obispo and at Luna Red is that I want to put stuff on the menu that grows locally, so because of that I’m challenged to create menu items from these products. Things like apple salad and beet salads.Those kinds of dishes are easy to do because they grow locally.

Avoid Waste

It’s important to respect the life of an animal whether it’s a clam, a quail or a lobster by cooking it properly and by not throwing it away in the trash.That animal lived and died for us to be put on a plate.In my kitchen we’re constantly going through these little flow charts and the various uses of products so that the last place it can go is in the trash.So our trash is very light.

At Home

These methods and practices can also be applied to a home kitchen.I encourage people to think, where can I put this besides the trash?I encourage my cooks to do the same.There are stocks you can make out of trim and peels and other things if you just let your imagination run a little bit.Pesto, for instance, is made from green leaf items but you can make pesto from anything, you make a spinach pesto, arugula pesto, carrot top pesto and avocado pesto.

Have A Network

People that have influenced me and my philosophy are Celebrity Chef Rick Bayless and Greg Higgins in Portland, the father of this type of cuisine, “the slow food movement.”I’m also a part of the chef’s collaborative, a fraternity of chefs that share the same beliefs.Locally I think that most of us chefs are trying to do the same thing.We’re all very fortunate to have access to the bounty that we have here.It gives us more of an advantage and success with sustainability then those in the Midwest, or anywhere else that is pretty landlocked.I also have a good culinary circle of chef friends that I can source products from if I need to.

At Luna Red

Patrons of Luna Red should feel good about what they eat here, that their life expectancy is prolonged because it’s all natural.It is what it says it is.I can’t sleep at night if my ethics are compromised.I’ve cooked for a lot of people in my life and sometimes I had some problems with what I was preparing.And I don’t ever want that for my cooks.I want them to feel and know that they are cooking according to our mission statement and in line with our philosophy.I want them to be proud of what they are making and serving to our guests.

Shaun Behrens is head Chef at Luna Red in San Luis Obispo. For more information on Luna Red or Restaurant Month visit