At Rumour Restaurant on Stephens Avenue in midtown Missoula, the owners and the new executive chef don’t just pay lip service to the notions of sustainably sourced and local food, both of which are becoming more and more popular in the dining culture of America.
They’ve actually invested quite a bit of time and money into a system that helps local farmers and ranchers, boosts sustainable seafood programs and reduces their carbon footprint and landfill waste.
“We are all about wild, sustainable, local and natural,” said Colleen Powers, who opened the restaurant with her husband John a year and a half ago in the former Elbow Room. “Quality is critical.”
From their kegged wine system that cuts down on thousands of glass bottles every year to their mission to buy from local farms that raise animals in a humane way, the couple have found success by getting quality ingredients that contribute to the local economy.
The restaurant buys its chicken for dishes like coq au vin (braised chicken and vegetables in a brandy Bordeaux sauce) from Living River Farms in the Bitterroot Valley, which specializes in pasture-raised and humanely raised meats. They get their beef from the conservation-minded Oxbow Cattle Co. in Missoula, their bison comes from a ranch near Kalispell and their veggies from several local farmers.
Seafood can’t be sourced locally, but they work with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program that gives recommendations for which types have been sustainably harvested from the ocean.
In fact, new executive chef Gulsidel Velazquez (everyone calls him Chef G) personally makes phone calls to fishermen and others who source his foods so he knows exactly what he’s getting.
“I was talking to a guy on the docks just the other day,” said Velazquez. "I need to know where it comes from. I require them to speak to me and I meet with them.”
Velazquez, who is from Mexico and knows cuisines from all over the world, was the chef for the Powerses when they owned the Ranch Club west of Missoula. They were able to convince him to return to Missoula with his family to head the kitchen, and they couldn’t be happier.
“The respect he has from his staff and his creativity is amazing,” Colleen Powers said. “We are so damn lucky to have him. We’re blessed.”
Another innovation that sets the restaurant apart is their wine-on-tap program.
Instead of paying for hundreds of glass bottles to be delivered every week and then throwing them all away, their wine comes in refillable kegs.
“There are 26 bottles of wine in a keg or cask, so this eliminates 2,340 pounds of trash from the landfill over (the keg's) lifetime,” Powers said.
The kegs reduce potential oxidation of the wine, meaning it stays fresher for longer. A typical bottle has to be thrown away in two or three days for the utmost quality. Each keg saves glass bottles from being produced, which requires a lot of heat and therefore carbon dioxide, and reduces shipping weight.
“This is a relatively new technology that benefits our guests, our restaurant and our environment,” Powers said.
They have 29 different types of wine on tap, so they built an entire specialized temperature-controlled room with all kinds of dials and hoses to handle the system. Powers said the kegs also are cost-effective, allowing the restaurant to sell glasses at a reasonable price. She said the quality and the taste are much better.
“You always get a fresh glass,” she said. “We’ve had wine makers in here and they say it tastes perfect. We buy four to six kegs per week. Just like beer, it’s fresh. We did a lot of research on this system before we invested in it.”
More and more companies across the country, like one firm called Freeflow, are specializing in wine by the keg. Powers said that besides the Dram Shop in Missoula, Rumour is the only restaurant that has the system.
“It’s new, and the green aspect of it is why people were pushing it,” Powers said. “And the recycling piece of it is important for us. We’re keeping garbage out of the landfill. There’s a lot of variables that make it appealing. It’s been great.”