Taranta 210 Hanover Street, Boston, MA (617) 720-0052
Photo: Jose Duarte/Taranta
It would be easy to assume that chef-owner Jose Duarte of Boston’s Taranta would be resting on his laurels given what is a seemingly successful formula: a North End restaurant praised by critics and described by Zagat as a “sustainably minded ‘oasis,’” a solid stream of frequent customers and newbies, and a steady following on social media.
Yet upon meeting the tall, robustly built Peruvian-born chef, it becomes quite apparent that nothing about him is remotely formulaic.
“It was an article about global warming that did it for me,” said Duarte, in describing the impetus for his journey into the realm of sustainability. While Duarte’s ultimate aim for Taranta is carbon neutrality, he understands all too well that sustainability is a process and, thus, approaches it holistically. He began his efforts by supplanting items in the Peruvian-infused Italian menu with ecologically balanced options: biodynamic and organic wines, locally sourced produce, and sustainably produced protein. Given the lack of healthy aquacultures available and the marine by-catch caused by conventionally caught seafood, Duarte ensures Taranta’s flounder—a key item in the menu—is caught locally with no resulting by-catch. In addition, Taranta minimizes carbon footprint by composting—an important awareness considering the amount of methane produced by landfills each year.
Certainly, it would appear that taking a proactive approach to sustainability would suffice for the ecologically aware business owner. But the MBA-trained Duarte takes it further as he explains his concern for the working conditions of farm workers. “It’s like modern slavery and [about] food justice,” he expressed, as he expounded on the human element not normally considered in food production.
One could indeed assume that such convictions are undoable, lofty even. Yet Duarte’s latest venture is a sustainable farm-to-table lodge in Peru that seeks to help the local community—from schools to libraries to the local farms—to which he states explicitly, “is not meant to be a profitable project.” He adds that it is a “place to reset, reconnect, and come back to humanity.”
Duarte’s statements are not simply words spoken akin to a hollow shell, as he puts his beliefs into practice with his own staff, “They have to like what they do. If they don’t, we find them something else to do.” In fact, Taranta’s team more recently went on a trip to Peru, where they learned aspects of local food and culture, from vegetable genuses to sustainable farming practices.
Without a doubt, as I listened to Chef Duarte talk about his sustainability efforts with single-minded focus, I realized that I may have been blindsided by his story. That he may, after all, have been working under a formula: that is, good business sense and awareness of the human element can coexist.