The Celtics and the Green Monster at Fenway Park are not the only things that are green in Boston. The unique Peruvian-Italian restaurant Taranta, located in Boston's North End has developed a reputation as being one of the most eco-friendly restaurants anywhere. That a restaurant should be devoted to green initiatives is no surprise. That it should exist in an older building in the heart of a major urban area is a bit of a surprise, a very welcome one, because if it can be done in a situation like that, it should be able to be done anywhere.
Chef/Owner Jose Duarte was born in Peru, raised in Venezuela in a community of Southern Italian emigrés and educated in the United States. He has an MBA in Food Service Operations. With an Italian wife, Duarte opened Taranta in Boston's heavily Italian North End as a classic southern Italian restaurant, but within a few years, he started using some Peruvian ingredients in his cooking. Per the December 9, 2004 Boston Globe review:
"Luckily, there's Taranta. Jose Duarte, chef/owner, started out serving Southern Italian cuisine, then began using ingredients from his native Peru to feed his cooks before the restaurant opened for the evening. Later a few ingredients such as rocoto peppers crept into Italian dishes on the menu. When those met with success, Duarte became bolder, and the result a few years later is an intriguing melding of the exotic and more familiar Italian."
Peru has a longstanding, successful tradition of fusing cuisines, including Andean, Spanish, African, Japanese (see Nobu), Chinese and to a lesser extent Italian based upon a diverse population mix in the country and an incredible diversity and variety of available ingredients. Duarte's cooking takes advantage of this natural bounty and cultural bent towards combining and adapting cuisines to create new, synergistic ones.
Though he was cooking innovative food, Duarte had not yet started his revolution to green. While he has always had an interest in being green, it wasn't until 2007, that Duarte seriously moved his restaurant in that direction, steadily increasing and improving their initiatives and reducing their carbon footprint. Duarte is very quick to point out that his initiatives are not solely based on idealism. While he is happy to contribute to a better planet, he stresses that all of his initiatives make economic and financial sense for him and his restaurant. It is this latter aspect that makes others sit up and take notice of what he has been doing. The bottom line, according to Duarte is that it pays to be green. (For a sense of a timeline of Taranta's green initiatives see their blog Taranta Going Green.
I had an opportunity this past week to visit with Chef Duarte at his restaurant along with my son to see for ourselves, some of the eco-friendly initiatives that they have undertaken. We toured the restaurant to see the rechargeable LED lights he uses on the dining tables instead of candles. Duarte says that they use so little energy in their production and operation, even compared to candles, that they save the restaurant money and they have an added benefit of safety. In the photo above, he stuffs the butcher paper that they use to cover table tops to protect the linen and decrease cleaning costs into the light fixture. He left it that way during my entire visit to no ill effect. Try that with a candle!
The wine list at Taranta is filled with organic and biodynamic wines. It even boasts of a wine from Chile that is so eco-friendly that it is certified to be carbon-neutral in its delivery. Whether or not it is any good, I could not personally say, though Duarte said that he was quite pleased with its quality and value.
In the kitchen Duarte started talking about how even small details are important. I have personally used utensils and take out containers made from potato starch, but Duarte showed us drinking straws that the restaurant uses. Made from corn and are not just land-fill friendly, they are in fact, fully compostable! From there he took us out behind the restaurant to show us the relative levels of compost, recycling and trash coming out of the restaurant. With an average trash bin filling on average once per month, mainly due to packaging materials, the landfill bound trash from Taranta has been reduced to only 1% of their total waste with the rest going to compost and recycling.
Duarte has installed a number of energy and water saving devices in the restaurant including tankless water heaters and special low water, high pressure faucets used to clean pots and plates. Other energy saving endeavors include powerful but extremely efficient warm air hand dryers in the rest rooms, occupancy sensors to control lights and the use of filtered used cooking oil for the restaurants to power the truck they use to haul their produce.
These and all the other initiatives Duarte has undertaken in his restaurant are certainly laudable and ripe for emulation, especially if, as Duarte insists, they make economic and business sense, with a very positive effect on their business bottom line. It is certainly good for a restaurant to have a reputation for being as green as Taranta is, but that alone is not enough. Fortunately, Taranta also has a reputation for serving outstanding and unique food.Rather than have us take it for granted, Chef Duarte whipped up a few dishes for us.
He served us three dishes, two of a decidedly Peruvian-Italian bent and one more classic Italian. One of Taranta's signature dishes is Gnocchi di yucca con ragu verde stilo seco Peruviano - Cassava root gnocchi with a slow braised "Chicha de Jora" green lamb ragu and shaved parmesan (Spicy). With a classic Italian look and taste, the Peruvian connection would have only been obvious from having read the menu. The gnocchi, outsourced to Duarte's specifications were light and tasty. The sauce was rich and complex with wonderful, umami rich chunks of lamb. That the "parmesan" was from Argentina rather than Italy was acceptable because it was good and in tune with the rest of the dish.
He also whipped up a tasty Orechiette con salssicchia- Orecchiette pasta with aji Amarillo spicy Abruzzese sausage, Izote blossom, cherry tomatoes and green peas and Pan roasted mussels - Pan roasted fresh cultivated P.E.I. mussels with Sicilian Marsala and tossed with Italian Bacon and roasted shallots, both delicious.
Even if Taranta was an otherwise ordinary restaurant, it would be one worth rooting for to see them succeed because of their highly responsible way of doing business and serving as a model for others. With a unique style of food that is both fun and delicious, I would want them to succeed even if they weren't green. That they are both delicious and green makes for an outstanding combination. I look forward to their continuing evolution towards total sustainability.
Boston, MA 02113
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