Should CSR Stand for Chefs’ Social Responsibility?

We’ve covered many Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives in the past.  But does this sort of social responsibility also apply to chefs, especially world renowned chefs?  Do chefs have a responsibility to incorporate sustainability practices, environmental or social, into their discipline?  Or should a chef focus solely on their culinary artistry?

Good food for the sake of good food
Thomas Keller and Andoni Luis Aduriz are two famous chefs that suggests a chefs sole purpose is to create good food, and not much else.  As a New York Times article puts it, “they are united in the belief that their responsibility as chefs is primarily to create breathtakingly delicious and beautiful food — not, as some of their colleagues think, to provide a livelihood for farmers near their restaurants, to preserve traditional culinary arts or to stop the spread of global warming.”

Chef Keller is known for restaurants such as The French Laundry in Yountville, CA, and Bouchon with locations across the United States. Despite most of his restaurants’ proximity to local agriculture and foodstuff sources, Keller focuses on the caliber of his ingredients.  “I think about quality, not geography, ” says Keller.

Keller further questions, “Is global food policy truly our responsibility, or in our control?” he asked.  “I don’t think so.”

Chef Aduriz tends to agree, “to align yourself entirely with the idea of sustainability makes chefs complacent and limited.”  Aduriz just released his book Mugaritz: A Natural Science of Cooking.  Although Aduriz thinks chefs should not focus on sustainability, in his latest books he does acknowledge his restaurants’ relationship with nature.

Good food for the sake of a cause
On the other side of the spectrum, there is Eric Ripert.  Chef Ripert has been a guest judge on Top Chef, and also hosts Avec Eric, a PBS series.

Although Ripert is head chef at one of the most expensive and highly esteemed restaurants in the world, Le Bernardin in New York City, Ripert harnesses this clout for both environmental and social responsibility.  A signature dish at Le Bernardin is kindai maguro, sustainably raised bluefin tuna.

In an interview with Inc, Ripert suggests, “Use your platform as a business leader to draw attention to a cause.”  For example, Ripert utilizes his celebrity in support of City Harvest, an organization attempting to rescue food for New York’s hungry.  Ripert does cooking demos for City Harvest’s mobile market, and often campaigns and speaks on City Harvest’s behalf.

Dish it out
So, what do you think?  Is a chefs job just to focus on their gastrointestinal art?  Or should they take part and also include sustainability initiatives?  Is sustainability limiting to a chef or does it provide opportunities?

Image Credit: alex.lines via Flickr

Jonathan Mariano is an MBA candidate with the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, CA. His interests include the convergence between lean & green and pursuing free-market based sustainable solutions.

One response

  1. While I think that a chef can do whatever he or she pleases to practice, perfect, and revolutionize the culinary arts, I do think chefs have a unique opportunity to educate their patrons on sustainable agricultural practices each step of the process from growing, preparing and then composting their creations. When chefs, particularly celebrity chefs, patronize local food sources and highlight the bounty of the season on their menu, they are demonstrating the importance of quality, fresh ingredients while expressing their creativity and making something beautiful. Chef choice has a lot of power and what chef wouldn’t want to go out back behind the restaurant and pick some fresh ingredients for a signature dish (a la Blue Hill at Stone Barns)? Chefs don’t need to knock patrons over the head with ‘sustainability’, but through the practice of their art using fresh local in season foods, the value of sustainable food choices becomes evident and the norm for our culture. I cannot think of anything but opportunity when participating in a truly sustainable food system whether you are a grower, producer, culinary artist, or eater!!

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