Solar Crêpes: French Cuisine, With a Side of Sun
7 million. That’s roughly how many people are added to our planet's population each month. Such a staggering growth rate shines a bright light on resources like food, water, and energy. Will there be enough to go around? Our weekly series, The Sustainables, profiles the folks doing their part to ensure that there is.
The last words that come to mind when you hear the term 'food truck' are sustainable, organic, locally grown, and solar-powered. But that’s the case for one mobile eatery parked on the streets of Arlington, Virginia.
Co-owned by chefs Danna Andrews and Camille Dierksheide, Solar Crêpes places as much time and care into the origin of their ingredients as it does into the tastiness of menu items like wild caught smoked salmon with horseradish cream, caramelized onion puree, and spinach on a buckwheat crêpe.
While Andrews and Dierksheide hatched the idea for the eco-friendly eatery in 2009, the seeds of their commitment to sustainable, healthy food were sown years earlier, when they were classmates at L’Academie de Cuisine’s Professional Culinary Program.
In addition to rooftop solar panels—which are slated for installation on April 18—the mobile crêperie boasts a truckload of other green features, including 100% recycled/unbleached/compostable napkins and a composting and recycling partnership with a local high school.
TakePart recently spoke with Dierksheide about what it is like to bring solar-powered sustainability to the streets.
TakePart: In how many different ways does the free energy of the sun influence your business?
Camille Dierksheide: In every single aspect. While the solar panels are very cool, exciting, innovative, and visually out there for people, for us, it’s exciting that our food is grown from the sun. It’s not grown from synthetic fertilizers or chemicals or anything like that. That’s really important to us.
TP: When will the panels be up?
CD: April 18, if the weather is good.
TP: How much of the energy used by the truck will be powered by the panels? Is there any way to estimate the percentage of energy used?
CD: The panels are going to power our light and our exhaust fan. I guess what I can tell you is that the average output from the panels will be about 520 watt hours a day.
TP: Do you know how much money the panels are going to save you?
CD: I’m really not sure yet to be honest with you.
TP: What are some of the truck’s other green aspects?
CD: We bought used. The truck’s about 23 years old, we bought it off somebody on Craigslist. Number two, we’re renting a kitchen that’s already built. Our pots and pans are second hand. We do compost with TC Williams High School. They have a Discovery Garden Club, and it’s part of the Chinquapin Community Garden in Alexandria. Their professor, Patrick Earle, has built a composting system so we bring all of our kitchen scraps there and it’s used all throughout the garden for anybody there who’s got a plot.
TP: Any message for the people on Earth Day?
CD: Eat local! That’s my message. Meet your farmer. We feel like it’s Earth Day every day.
TP: Can you tell me a little about how you embrace social media?
CD: We use Twitter to tweet out our location—whether or not we’re going to be open. As you can imagine, when you’re doing a business like this, it’s very weather dependent.
TP: How important is it to support local ingredients?
CD: It’s really important to buy local. I mean number one, it tastes better. And number two, when it’s grown locally, you’re supporting a local artisan, a local farmer. You’re not having to incur the fuel that it takes to transport produce from one place to another.
TP: Food trucks are not usually thought of as a haven for healthy local foods. Why did you decide to add that component to your truck and what was the process of tracking down local distributors like?
CD: First of all, I want to say, it wasn’t something we decided to add to it. It was the heart of the formation of the business. That was what we wanted to do from the very beginning—it was born of this concept of local foods. Danna and I are both very passionate about it in our personal lives. We see this as an educational component at our job every day. I think that nutrients—the idea of something being nutritious—is often stereotyped as not having any flavor. In fact, if you’re getting a piece of spinach that’s grown a hundred miles away from you, it’s picked at the peak of freshness and tastes unlike any spinach you’ve ever purchased at the grocery store before. It’s nutrient dense and tastes fantastic. We wanted to debunk this whole 'it's good for you, but it doesn’t taste great' thing.
TP: Washington D.C. can have some pretty harsh winters. What seasonal produce do you use when the ground is covered in snow?
CD: Yeah, it’s hard and I’ll be brutally honest with you. For the winter, we actually have been buying spinach from Whole Foods. We’ve been buying their 365 Organic brand but before that we did try to freeze or can as many things as we could. We did oven-roasted tomatoes so we could have a store of those throughout the winter. We did parsnips, apples and pears so we had a lot of things that we canned. Right now, we don’t have tomatoes so there is a lot of stuff on our menu that we would normally have tomatoes on, but we just don’t have them. We’re excited for that first tomato in July. To answer your question, we use a lot of root vegetables.