Battling the Drought 'One Dish' at Time: Local Restaurants Launch Water-Wise Strategies

This article was written by Nancy Luna and first appeared in the Orange County Register

Like kids in a candy shop, chefs Andrew Bent and Peter Hoff gleefully swipe and bite fruits and vegetables while touring Alegría Fresh on a recent Wednesday morning. A scarlet red- and yellow-hued heirloom tomato plucked from the Irvine farm is so ripe, its juices burst after one chomp.

The chefs for Tender Greens are amazed at the water content in the fruit – grown using 75 percent less water than conventional row farming.

“They use less water, and the tomato is still dripping down your elbow like a peach,” said Hoff, executive chef at the Tender Greens near UC Irvine.

Earlier this year, California banned all restaurants from serving water unless requested as the state enters its fourth year of extreme drought conditions. Though key water restrictions are aimed mostly at residential users, some Orange County restaurants are taking their own drought-busting steps.

From fast food to fine dining, establishments are sourcing from hydroponic farms, slashing “water hogging” foods from menus and rigging kitchens with water-saving contraptions.

Each of Tender Greens’ two Irvine restaurants receives 100 to 125 pounds of produce three times a week from Alegría, which grows 80 different fruits and vegetables using water-efficient farming methods. Striking such partnerships is part of the 9-year-old chain’s planet-friendly ethos...