Q&A with Member Chef Sam Monsour, Executive Chef of JM Curley in Boston.
Can you describe your introduction to sustainability: when did you first start to think about sustainable practices in the kitchen and how did you start?
I was first introduced to the idea, importance and magnitude of sustainability while studying at The Culinary Institute of America. Part of my program was a month long food and beverage seminar that toured us all over California. I was 21, and had never been to the west coast. The idea of sustainability was very new to me, and it seemed like everyone we met was embracing its principles. Since then, I’ve tried to apply these principles to my life as best as possible, but I still have so much room for improvement. As a professional, I am new to command, and running my first kitchen. Since day one, I have tried my hardest to implement sustainable practices across the board. Developing sustainable business practices with a 360 degree outlook truly is a learning process. Like the life that we are working to sustain, my program is constantly growing!
What size restaurant are you operating?
Currently, the restaurant that I am operating has two outlets: jm Curley is a 100 seat barroom, and Bogie’s Place is a 22 seat boutique steakhouse.
How would you describe your restaurant?
Our establishment is quite unique. We offer a full spectrum of classic American cuisine, everything from ketchup to caviar. With the food program, I do my best to honor the heritage of the American restaurant, as well as offer an interesting array of regionally distinct cuisine. I’m also trying to push the envelope on what comfort/junk food is by reinventing America’s favorite flavor profiles and food items using local, seasonal foods coming from farms and companies that operate with love, care and integrity. Perfect example: Flamin’ Hot Pig’s Ear Cheetos.
How do you apply sustainable practices on a daily basis? What’s your framework for making choices?
My framework is simple. Every choice I make has a footprint x1000 of what an individual has. So, it’s extremely important that I pay attention to everything that I am doing, and ask a lot of questions. Who is picking up my used fryer oil, and what are they doing with it? How far is my produce traveling, and how much fossil fuel is being burned to get it to me? What farm is my meat coming from, and what are their practices? Are they humane? Which leads me to a funny yet very serious point. I don’t just believe in treating livestock humanely, I think that we should treat humans that way too. To me, sustainability promotes health, longevity and the cycle of life. As restaurant operators, chefs must consider the happiness and health of their employees as part of the sustainable philosophy as well.
Can you describe a sustainability challenge you’ve overcome?
Sourcing direct from local farmers. It is one of the biggest challenges I am faced with. Supplies are not as steady, billing can be much trickier as some farms are very small and require COD, and most farms don’t have a website, so it’s really all word of mouth. Once you crack the shell, it gets much easier. Relationships start to grow, as does your knowledge of local farms. You have to be flexible, and lend yourself to the farmer, their land, their animals, but, it’s always worth it when the farmer drops off their amazing, cared for product.
What do you still have to conquer, or what’s next?
This is embarrassing, but I am currently working on the implementation of recycling. We have really dropped the ball on this in the past, and as an entire restaurant team, our morale is down and out. Recycling is something that is important to all of us, and we look forward to soon having a system in place where our waste can be managed with tomorrow in mind. After that, we will look to composting.
I’m best known for my burger (best in Boston baby!) but I can make one heck of a 7 piece chicken nugget (they’re organic).