Forage: covers up, energy costs down

Forage executive chef Chris Whittaker (right) and Listel hotel general manager Jim Mockford show off their energy management award from BC Hydro.

Forage executive chef Chris Whittaker (right) and Listel hotel general manager Jim Mockford show off their energy management award from BC Hydro.

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VANCOUVER—Covers are up, energy costs are down and Forage restaurant executive chef Chris Whittaker has a lot to smile about.

A little over a year ago, Forage restaurant opened on Robson Street in the Listel Hotel space formerly occupied by O’Doul’s restaurant. The space was gutted, renovated and rebuilt, keeping energy efficiency in mind.

The project was a key element of The Next Course Project with BC Hydro and LiveSmart BC. 

Using the baseline established from kitchen metering at O’Doul’s, Forage has achieved energy savings of 30 per cent in natural gas and 18 per cent in hydro, for an average of 24 per cent over its first full year of operations.

In dollars and cents, that’s more than $4,300 in gas (about 600 gigajoules) and $4,000 (66,000 kWh) in electricity costs saved using ENERGY STAR rated gas and electric cooking equipment and refrigeration.

Or to look at it another way, the energy cost per meal served at Forage is only 45 cents, down from over 60 cents previously.

Those efficiency numbers improve further with the healthy bump in covers, with 12,000 additional meal occasions served at Forage last year versus O’Doul’s in the year prior.  

And when you factor in the additional catering and banquet business drawn to the ‘long-on local’ menu created by chef Whittaker, the full value of the Listel’s investment in sustainable operations is measurably clear for both the short-term and the long run.

Built-in savings
Changes made during the renovations contributed to the savings. Some existing kitchen equipment was replaced with more energy-efficient models and other equipment was set up to work more efficiently.

An on-demand exhaust system has made a big difference in savings. The exhaust hood is typically the largest energy user in a restaurant kitchen and most restaurants operate their exhaust at full speed all day long. A variable-speed motor can cut fan energy by 50 per cent and heating and cooling energy by 25 per cent. Forage’s new system automatically powers down when the kitchen is not cooking intensively.

Operational changes
Whittaker’s goal, shared by The Next Course Project, is the energy efficient production of local meals. As a result, 80 per cent of the restaurant’s ingredients are sourced in British Columbia and the rest come from other parts of the Pacific Northwest and Alberta.

To make the most of local produce, the kitchen staff preserve items when they’re in season, freezing berries for jams and chutneys, and making pickles and other preserves.

Whittaker says with Forage, the menu can change on the fly depending on what is locally available. “We can respond quickly if nettles or wild watercress come into season, because the customers don’t have an expectation of having same meal every time,” he says.