Cooking with KESCO

Photography by Michelle Stancil

A Zero Waste, Quality-Controlled, Green Kitchen Design

When the new Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo opens in the fall, it will be the culmination of over a decade of planning and fundraising. The Zoo Foundation, Inc, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, states that its mission is “to create compelling experiences that connect people and community with wildlife, and inspire personal responsibility for conservation of the natural world.” One way the Zoo intends to fulfill this mission is through its food and beverage service, which will take the visitor experience to a level that few attractions can match.

The Safari Club kitchen is unique because it has achieved Green Kitchen certification from the Green Restaurant Association, the first restaurant in the state of Alabama to do so. Kitchen Equipment and Supply Company (KESKO) of Pensacola, the premier local source for commercial foodservice design and construction, worked closely with Chef Greg Buschmohle and the Green Restaurant Association (GRA) to assure that everything in the kitchen was as efficient, sustainable, and environmentally responsible as possible. KESCO Project Manager Anthony Wilson followed standards from the GRA and identified manufacturers that could supply equipment that met or exceeded the green standards. This involved finding vendors with products having the correct energy ratings, then applying value engineering while meeting exacting standards. “It was a challenge,” Wilson says, “but we were able to meet all the criteria, and it was a joy to work with Greg.”

Green features in the kitchen include energy efficient LED lighting, fans that adjust to the need of the moment, a genuine wood-burning grill for steaks, fish, burgers, and much more. KESCO designers worked hand in hand with Buschmohle to lay out the kitchen, with separate areas for hot food prep, salads, desserts, and baked goods. Every decision involved best practices regarding food handling, food storage, and kitchen efficiency. “In the long term, these measures not only serve our environmental goals, but they save money,” Buschmohle says. “It is actually possible to operate this entire food service operation without a dumpster. We will recycle our pre-consumer food waste to the animals as part of their diet and utilize post-consumer waste as compost for Grandma’s Farm, our onsite kitchen gardens, keeping food garbage to an absolute minimum. The City of Gulf Shores has an amazing recycling program for the small amount of non-food waste we generate.” All food venues will utilize plant-based disposables for outdoor dining and to-go containers – there will be no plastic at all.

Buschmohle was involved in all the decisions about the kitchen because he was ultimately the person who would be using the equipment. Fortunately, building and running a Green Kitchen at a zoo was truly his dream. “This might be what I’ve worked toward all my life,” he says. “My first passion is the Zoo itself, the animals. I have always felt a real connection. I can’t wait to stand eye to eye with the giraffes, to serve a meal to a private party at the giraffe habitat, eye-level with these magnificent animals.”

The Safari Club is the Zoo’s flagship dining venue. The feel is of an elegant but rustic enclave in the middle of a jungle. Bartops, constructed from a local live oak, are finished with clear blue resin containing crushed glass from the Gulf Shores recycling facility. There are 115 seats on the adjacent patio, several private party venues, and three stationary food trucks. “The food for all venues will come from the central kitchen so that we can control all aspects of preparation and presentation,” says the chef. “With KESCO’s expertise, we have the quality control we need, we meet the Green Kitchen standards, and we can provide a variety of dining experiences. I’m really excited about opening the restaurant to the public by the end of summer, and having the Zoo fully operational and open in mid-November.”

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