Chef Rob Rubba’s ethos serves as an example of mindfully sustainable practices within D.C.’s restaurant scene.
With the topics of climate change and sustainability ever-present in all facets of life and continuously becoming more relevant, we decided to interview Chef Rob Rubba of Oyster Oyster about how he made his dream of creating a truly sustainable, environmentally friendly fine-dining venue a reality. Read on to learn about Rubba’s ethos and philosophy for sustainability in fine dining, and the small and big ways he has sought to reduce his business’ carbon footprint.
District Fray: Your restaurant Oyster Oyster, which opened in 2020, has served as a model for environmentally and sustainably focused restaurants in the global landscape of dining. What led you to endeavor to open a restaurant with this kind of focus on sustainability?
Rob Rubba: I have worked in restaurants for years – here in D.C. and in other places like New York and Connecticut – and there came a time when I was working here in D.C. at the now-shuttered Hazel, when I started to have a shift in consciousness. I began to think about how much waste we were creating through the cooking processes we were using, how many pigs we needed to continue to serve the pork ribs that were one of the most popular dishes on the menu, and that led me to start doing some research on sustainability. From there, I worked with my close friend Max Kuller to develop a concept, a dream really, of opening a restaurant that could achieve both goals of serving delicious food and offering a great dining experience, yet function in a way that is working more in harmony with the environment. We really wanted to implement a program beyond farm to table, something we build from the ground up that would be congruent with being green. From there, we eventually launched Oyster Oyster, which survived the pandemic and is about to have its second summer of in-person dining.
What kinds of practices do you utilize at Oyster Oyster to achieve your goal of having an environmentally friendly and equitable restaurant business?
First and foremost, we are a primarily plant-based restaurant. We minimize waste as much as possible by using all or almost all the elements of the plants, fruits and vegetables we cook with — and what we can’t use, we compost. We use only local products and work with several forward-thinking farmers and artisans in the area who minimize packaging and waste. We make everything in-house, and don’t use any single-use plastics in our packaging. Even our piping bags are compostable. We also spread our ethos to beverages: We use large-format bottles and kegs for beer to eliminate single-serve glass and aluminum bottles. Our wine program is global, but we focus on wineries that utilize sustainable and responsible practices, and who’s owners take care of the people who work there and don’t sacrifice pay for sustainability. We also created a restaurant environment that is sustainable by only using LED lighting which reduces energy waste, and we harnessed materials like cork for the restaurant which is a sustainable and sound-proofed wood source. Finally, we try and offer equal pay to our cooks and service staff, so our philosophy of preserving the environment also spreads to how we take care of our people.
How has public reception been to Oyster Oyster?
We have received so much support and many accolades from the community, from fellow chefs to colleagues in the food and restaurant industry to local diners. We are very grateful.
How did your life changed when you shifted to running an environmentally friendly business?
I have developed a real commitment to plant-based dining and environmentalism, and became a vegetarian. My family has been incredibly supportive and shares my values.
What’s coming up next at Oyster Oyster?
Lots of exciting things. Our solstice menu launches on June 21, and we are so excited to be cooking with peas, berries, stone fruit, sugar snap peas and all the amazing produce that comes through the farms in the summer. We are also opening up the Oyster Oyster “garage” which will serve as a casual bar/dining space. We will have wine and beer on tap, seasonal pizzas and oyster on the half-shell. It’s a homage to the space that helped us survive the pandemic. We are so excited about recent compliments we have received and are thrilled to be continuing to serve our food and our ideas to the D.C. community.
Oyster Oyster is open five nights a week and offers a seasonal tasting menu with optional wine or zero-proof pairings. Make a reservation here.
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