Last February, we wrote about the Houston Zoo's first Enchantment Under the Sea dinner, a meal devoted to educating guests about sustainable seafood. It's returning this year on Friday, February 17, and tickets are newly on sale. On April 22, the annual black tie Zoo Ball will include an even more elaborate ethical fish dinner. But each of those events is just one night. Since January 21, the zoo's everyday food service has begun its transformation to an intensely Earth-friendly establishment. Even more impressive: The food is already good enough to convert families from packing PB&J to sitting down for a meal.
The upgrade comes courtesy of a new partnership with Service Systems Associates, a company devoted to bringing sustainability to cultural attractions. "The goal is to have green restaurants," says general manager Danny Anchondo. He and executive chef Corey Crozier started working at the zoo two months ago. They were allowed access to the kitchens on January 19, only two days before they began service.
Many changes are taking place slowly, as the SSA team works through materials left by former provider Sodexo. For now, utensils are recycled plastic. But Crozier says he and Anchondo are working on a contract with World Centric, a company that specializes in making cutlery from grass clippings. "The carbon footprint is basically nothing," he claims.
These improvements are in place at all three zoo eateries, Macaw Café, Twiga Café and Cypress Circle. The last of those will undergo an even bigger change this year. Within the year, the group of buildings will be torn down and rebuilt and will reopen as something of a mini food hall stocked with handmade dishes. A Southern Pride smoker will cook as many as 150 pork butts at once for homemade barbecue, served in classic style with pickles, onions and a choice of sides. Pizza will bake quickly in a giant wood-fired brick oven. A trailer in that courtyard will turn out gourmet patties as Wild Burger.
And changes aren't limited to restaurants. Many products previously brought in already prepared are going to be made from scratch at the zoo. "We spin our own cotton candy—it adds to the smell, it adds to the ambience," says Anchondo. "Sugar and popcorn in the air makes people think it's going to be delicious."
They're also waiting for plastic Mason jars to begin serving fresh-squeezed lemonade around the property. One more ingredient to a newly tasty "ambience" at the Houston Zoo.