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Sustainability News

School of Sustainability News Alumni and Student Spotlights

June 25, 2018

Chef Danielle Leoni wearing a chef's coat and smilingArizona State University Executive Master of Sustainability Leadership student Danielle Leoni certainly has enough accomplishments under her belt without a master’s degree. She is the executive chef and co-owner of The Breadfruit & Rum Bar in downtown Phoenix; she owns her own business, Leoni's Focaccia; and she was recently named as a 2018 James Beard Foundation Women's Entrepreneurial Leadership program fellow. Last summer, Leoni was awarded a “Seafood Sustainability Seal” by the James Beard Foundation after she participated in its Smart Catch sustainable seafood program.

Even having accomplished all of that, Leoni is driven to learn and do more in the realm of sustainability — thus, her enrollment in the EMSL program in the ASU School of Sustainability. Read on for why she chose the program, how she balances all of her responsibilities and how she hopes other restaurants will incorporate sustainability into their practices.

Question: Why did you decide to join the EMSL program?

Answer: As a chef and restaurateur, over the past decade I have earned credibility within the culinary community. At The Breadfruit & Rum Bar we employ the best practices to make our restaurant sustainable. My hope is that we are inspirational enough to get others in my industry to think more sustainably. I see the EMSL program as a means to develop myself as a leader and as an informed voice in the field of sustainability. I think the combination of my culinary experience and this emersion in sustainability leadership are going to come together to enable me to make meaningful strides in improving our industry and the food system at large.

The EMSL program is a powerful tool for anybody who wants to ensure that our way of life is protected. EMSL recognizes that modernity is here to stay and we must continue to be innovative in our approach to business. Seeing life through the lens of sustainability means that we get to live a life that is of the highest quality, which can only be done if we realize the means to have a sustainable supply of natural resources and social harmony.

Q: Is it challenging to balance your busy work schedule with your master's classes? How do you manage it all?

A: I think if you’re doing anything worth your time it’s going to be a challenge and I welcome the opportunity to cultivate and strengthen my ability to lead. Between working in the kitchen, running my business, engaging my community and keeping up with my master’s classes there isn’t a lot of free time. However, it’s the realization that time is limited that keeps me intensely focused on the task at hand and allows me to be more productive than I’ve been before.

Q: How did you become passionate about sustainable cooking?

A: My grandparents had a garden that I remember well from my childhood. There was nothing better than a freshly picked sweet ripe cantaloupe on a hot Illinois summer day. Thankfully, this helped develop my love for fresh food and helped me realize the value of local organic produce. Over the years, I became more aware of the importance of sustainable foods through my Saturday morning visits to the Downtown Phoenix Public Market. This lead to my fervor for sustainable seafood and my involvement with the James Beard Foundation Smart Catch program.

Q: What kinds of sustainability practices do you hope to see more restaurants bring into their businesses?

A: Restaurants can make small changes today that require little to no money or time to implement. It’s as simple as looking at each aspect of running a restaurant — let’s say food waste — and thinking how to mitigate that loss. At The Breadfruit & Rum Bar, we have a company that composts our pre- and post-consumer waste. This service cost us $20 per week, but there is much greater value gained than the money spent. Committing to composting became a vehicle for us to analyze our process of prepping and making food. We were able to take note of what we were throwing away and develop systems to repurpose product that would have been wasted. Less food being thrown away or composted means we are reducing our cost of goods sold and improving our bottom line.

Q: What does sustainability mean to you?

A: For me, sustainability is an endeavor to minimize the negative effects of my actions on the planet and my community, and realizing that everything in our modern lifestyle has a cost far greater than the dollars we spend on a particular product. This means I consider where the product came from and where it will go once I’ve used it. Being aware that nothing comes out of thin air, but instead is directly linked to our planet’s natural resources and its ability to regenerate while supporting my life choices is critically important.