Montreal

Ditching plastic straws was just the beginning for Quebec's greenest restaurant

Maison Boire earned its certification from LEAF, which ranks restaurants based on criteria that includes energy use, building materials, waste and innovation.

Owner plans to be entirely self-sustaining, zero waste within a decade

Maison Boire owner Brian Proulx stands in his garden. His restaurant is one of only 5 in Canada to reach the highest level of LEAF certification for environmentally responsible food service. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

The future is the past for restaurateur Brian Proulx who is learning techniques from hundreds of years ago to sustain his clean, green business that he hopes to pass on to future generations.

Proulx's Maison Boire in Granby, Que., is the only restaurant in the province to get the highest level of green certification by the Leaders in Environmentally Accountable Foodservice (LEAF).

It's one of five in Canada have the Level 3 LEAF certification — marking it as upholding the highest standard of environmentally-responsible food service.

Proulx has earned it by doing far more than ditching plastic straws.

For example, he uses cloth towels instead paper and washes them with laundry detergent made out of ashes from his firewood stoves.

He said it's not worth counting how many hours go into his work as a restaurateur at the leading edge of eco-friendly practices.

Making the laundry detergent alone is a process that requires the ashes to soak in water for eight hours, be filtered, then mixed with vinegar, baking soda and essential oils.

"For me it's not work, I love doing it," he said.

Maison Boire owner Brian Proulx stokes the fire in the restaurant kitchen. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

The restaurant is located about 70 kilometres east of Montreal and opened two years with humble eco-friendly initiatives — getting rid of takeout boxes, sourcing local food, reducing water consumption and keeping an eye on energy use.

Now, Proulx is developing a 10-year plan to make the restaurant entirely self-sufficient in its food harvesting, energy sources and material use.

Maison Boire's gardens use a permaculture system that capture rainwater for about 50 plants used in the restaurant's cooking and decorations. An aquaponic system raises fish while feeding plants in a symbiotic environment.

Maison Boire owner Brian Proulx planned on the restaurant being as environmentally sustainable as possible from the outset. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

Herbs from the garden go into signature teas and cocktails.

His next project is to turn the restaurant's parking lot into a greenhouse.

Surprisingly, Proulx is no longstanding green thumb, but finds learning about local plants is fulfilling.

"I want to learn to pass it through generations to my children," he said. "That is the main goal, and if I'm starting a company, why wouldn't I do that?"

It's not just learning about plants that's new to him though — he's endeavouring to make utensils and pottery for use in the restaurant as well.

"I am a curious guy, I want to put my hands in everything and I love to read everything," he said.

The next stage of Brian Proulx's restaurant sustainability project is to do his own pottery, including making these small bowls. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

Proulx said the cost associated with being this eco-friendly and the time commitment keeps a lot of restaurants from adopting these practices.

His advice to them is simple: "You just need to do it."

Proulx said the extra cost associated with being eco-friendly is reflected on the menu; but customers don't mind.

"It's fine dining," he said. "It's really about the experience — it's the music that you hear, it's what you see on the plates, it's the service that you have. It's all five senses."

A typical main course at dinner can cost between $20 and $50.

"When you look at the value of the money versus your carbon footprint, the restaurant is cheap," he said.

The restaurant uses herbs from its rooftop garden to make tea. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

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