By Laura Ann Sweitzer, TCHO Source Program Director
Since 2016, the United Nations have invited the international community to celebrate “Sustainable Gastronomy Day”, recognizing the importance of our food choices to fight climate change and inspiring people around the world to support sustainable food production, adopt healthy diets and avoid food waste. Restaurant chefs are key actors in promoting sustainable food systems for healthy and culturally diversified diets. TCHO’s mission is to bring better chocolate to the world - better for the planet, better for growers, better for consumers. The TCHO Source program partners with cocoa farmers, farmer owned cooperatives, and cocoa research institutions and leverages long-term sourcing relationships, price premiums for Organic and Fair Trade practices, and price premiums for quality (additional money to cocoa farmers specifically for the flavor of their beans) to improve equity in the cocoa supply chains. These practices, coupled with TCHO’s focus on flavor development, position TCHO as a natural chocolate choice for chefs who are pushing the boundaries of sustainable gastronomy.
TCHO’s specialization in sourcing specific cocoa flavor profiles is a natural fit with the flavor focus of pastry chefs and chocolatiers. With chocolate, delicious flavor speaks for itself. But price sensitivity and communicating the critical pieces of a more sustainable and equitable cocoa supply chain (and how actions in these areas enable better tasting cocoa beans and better tasting chocolate) can be nuanced and challenging. Especially on a piece of chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, or a bonbon where there is no space for a certification mark or an explanatory paragraph.
To celebrate this day, we sat down with David Rodriguez, Executive Pastry Chef at Watershed at the Owl, a California-based restaurant, to learn more about their brand, vision, and communicating this ethos to their customers.
TCHO: David, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Can you introduce yourself and your restaurant?
DR: Watershed at the Owl is located in an old mining town–Grass Valley, CA. We focus on using only sustainable and/or local ingredients. For example, all beef for the restaurant comes from within a 20-mile radius. We use a specific breed of steer and our Chefs use the ENTIRE animal. We make soap out of the beef fat, use the bones for stock and gelatin. We use the beef tongue and innards—everything. For produce, we also work with local farms and source as local as possible.
TCHO: Tell us about your role at the restaurant and how pastry fits into the local focus.
DR: I’m the Executive Pastry Chef at Watershed at the Owl. We do everything for our dessert menu in house. We bake bread from scratch and make ice cream from scratch. We use some local flours.
TCHO: How do you communicate this hyper local/low waste/sustainable focus to your customers and potential customers?
DR: We let them know that everything is sustainable and local and we are helping the community. We share how our sourcing model can benefit many members of our community. For example, we save all of the eggshells we use in our pastries, as well as the stale bread from service and fruit and herb trimmings. We pass them on to one of our local rancher partners to feed his pigs.
TCHO: Do you find Watershed at the Owl restaurant goers are curious about the sustainability and intentionality of your supply chain?
DR: Yes! Initially it was a little tough, as it was a huge change from what the community was used to. But once they learn this supports the community and neighboring towns and jobs, people are very supportive.
TCHO: Ingredients for the restaurant industry tend to be very price sensitive. How is Watershed at the Owl able to combine these high ingredient sourcing standards with a viable business plan?
DR: Yes. For example, it can be cheaper to buy steaks pre-cut and individually portioned in plastic bags… but sourcing meat that way takes away from a lot of the reasons many of us got into this industry for in the first place- the love of food. And if you dig into the price more, if you buy a premium whole steer, it might be more up front … but there is so much more you can do. It pushes creativity to use as much of the animal as possible, to use different pieces and cuts creatively. It pushes you to be creative with what you have and not be wasteful.
TCHO: What’s next for Watershed at the Owl?
DR: We are going to focus on staying small and fine tuning. For example, we are located between Tahoe and Sacramento, California and there isn’t much demand in our town for sustainable chickens and eggs. We are working on getting a group of people together in our community to pool our demand and source local sustainable eggs and poultry.
TCHO: Finally, TCHO is very proud to be a part of your local and sustainable supply chain. What are some of the desserts you use TCHO Chocolate for at Watershed at the Owl?
DR: We use TCHO in our Milk Chocolate Mousse and Hazelnut cookie butter, salted caramel, crème fraiche with cocoa crumbs. We use the TCHO 39% milk chocolate for the chocolate mousse (I love the caramel notes), plus TCHO Natural Cocoa Powder for the Cocoa Crumb to balance out the sweetness of the mousse and house made cookie butter (spreadable Sable cookie made with hazelnut flour). We also incorporate TCHO chocolate in petit fours and mignardises.
Originally featured as a guest blog post for the World Cocoa Foundation on June 17, 2019.