What does it take to become the most sustainable bar in North America?

Mark Sansom - 14/07/2022

Canada’s Bar Kismet was named the winner of the Ketel One Sustainable Bar Award 2022 as part of the inaugural North America’s 50 Best Bars after an independent audit by the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA). 50 Best grabs five minutes for a quick Q&A with the bar’s co-owner Jenner Cormier to understand the principles, processes and practices that brought one of the bar world’s most prestigious titles to this remote corner of Halifax, Nova Scotia

OK, let’s crack straight on. How did it feel when Bar Kismet was announced the most sustainable in the continent?

Jenner Cormier:
My knees nearly gave out when our name was announced as the winner of the Ketel One Sustainable Bar Award; especially since Dennis [Tamse, global relationships director for Ketel One Vodka] was handing over the award – he is a long-time friend of mine and the moment felt completely surreal. Sustainability behind the bar and throughout our beverage programme and the way we operate is something we spend a lot of time working on. Recognition at this level, among such an incredible group of establishments, is a huge honour and something our whole team is very proud to have accomplished… it hit us right in the feels.

Talk to us about the ethos your bar is built on?

JC: Since day one, the philosophy at Kismet has been that we treat all co-workers equally with respect and constantly pursue to be the best versions of ourselves – on and off the floor.

Hospitality is an incredibly stimulating industry, sometimes to a level that can be damaging to your physical or mental health. It is very important to us as owners and managers to provide a safe space for our team where we encourage all members to take care of themselves and watch out for their teammates. From a beverage perspective, the philosophy has always been to utilise local or unique ingredients that are potentially overlooked. Then the challenge becomes getting second, third or sometimes even fourth uses out of said ingredients by upcycling them into infusions, powders or garnishes – you name it, we’ve tried it.
Bar Kismet's bar manager Jenner Cormier with bar director Dylan Brentwood

What motivates you and your team at the bar?

The driving force behind our small bar team is to push each other to continue improving while still having fun and enjoying the process; we absolutely love to laugh. Our team is quick to analyse systems to try and improve on previous attempts or completely overhaul something that has been done one way for too long. We have an open-door policy when it comes to improving workspaces or processes – we value the opinions of our team and do our best to continue growing as a unit.

Your team clearly loves working with you. In terms of this sustainability of people, you scored very high marks in the SRA audit for how you look after your staff. What thinking underpins this?

From day one our goal has always been to champion all the people who operate Bar Kismet above anything else. They are the individuals responsible for making the experience memorable, so that is where our priority lies – their comfort, safety and general happiness come first.

We want our staff to feel proud of where they work and to take pride in the work that they do. Giving the team ample time during the week to accomplish things they are passionate about outside work is important as well. We try to provide staff with schedules well in advance, limit the number of shifts they work in a week, give them time off when they request it and give all staff full medical and dental insurance. We also try to genuinely listen. If anyone has anything they want to talk about, vent about, brainstorm or just get off their chest, we do our best to make light of the fact that everyone is human and we are here as a sounding board if needs be at any point.

Your support of marginalised communities – LGBTQ+ people and the BLM movement particularly – is well documented. Why is it important to work closely with these groups?

Supporting communities in our local area is something that we are very passionate about and do quietly by donating or contributing to foundations that we all stand behind. These communities represent some of the foundations of our society and should never be overlooked or passed over. Our team is incredibly thoughtful in that manner and it radiates through the way in which we support, but also the way we treat each other. This is something that means a lot to all of us, so it is taken quite seriously.
The bar is located in the centre of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

You seem to know everyone in the local area. How have your relationships with local businesses and suppliers evolved?

JC: The huge emphasis that we place on our suppliers goes all the way back to before we opened the bar, when my wife and I were operating two stalls at two different markets with the end goal of meeting the best farmers and producers in our province. It took almost a year of working in these markets making vegetable-based noodle bowls every week to decide the farmers whom we wanted to work with once we opened Kismet.

In doing this, we created some incredibly tight relationships with the people who help feed our city and put food on the shelves. It was a long and challenging way of attacking it, but I think that the hard work helped us build credibility and relationships that are stronger than they would have been if we’d taken a different course – it proved well worth the time clipping grocery coupons and barely being able to pay the rent!

We’ve heard a lot about your practice of turning fruit and vegetable pulp into powders for use in drinks. How does it work and can we do it at home?

Turning veg or fruit into powder is something we started playing around with when we started to realise how much pulp we were throwing out when juicing citrus. From there we really started to get carried away... Everything from super-seasonal fruits – blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, strawberry – to tropical fruits like pineapple or mango and even seasonal vegetables – fennel, ginger, turmeric, shelled peas – the possibilities became endless. We began using them as garnishes and that led to infusions, compound syrups and liqueurs.

For instance, with ginger, we keep the ginger juice and then take the pulp from the juicer, dehydrate it, blitz it in a coffee grinder and infuse it. After the infusion is strained through a coffee strainer, it goes back in the dehydrator and is dried again to create smoked ginger. Once it is dried, we blitz it again into a powder or keep it whole, break it into chips and use it as garnish.

Doing this, we manage to get four uses out of a piece of ginger that would typically get tossed. This is absolutely something you could do at home, if you have the patience . Especially if you have a small dehydrator or an oven that can run on a lower temperature for a few hours – let your imagination run wild!
Two of Bar Kismet’s signature cocktails: Mo Marrow Mo Problems and Third Moon in June

Guests speak in rapture about your food offering, particularly your wizardry with local fish. How did this come about?

We realised that restaurants in Nova Scotia cooking with seafood fell into two categories: fried fish and chips and fine dining restaurants that serve dated versions of the same fish that were on every menu, like halibut, salmon, haddock etc. So, we wanted to fall in the middle and designed a menu with fresh takes on seafood that is almost entirely local: monkfish, hake, perch, bass, bream, urchin and whelks. We also try to source species that would be found in bycatch that would typically be considered 'garbage'. So that was the starting point for how the fish portion of the menu was approached and we have run that route ever since.

And finally, could you give us your five top tips for living happily and sustainably?

1. Treat yourself well and make time to pursue things you enjoy – schedule it in if you have to

2. Make every day count – shifts might seem the same, but treat whatever you do as a profession and aim to improve. One of my closest friends has a saying: 'Once you have stopped learning, it is time to remove yourself from the industry

3. Champion the people around you – the rising tide lifts all boats

4. Smile more. Even when you are frustrated or annoyed, just smile: we are but a blip in the universe and it’s not worth getting angry about

5. Spend less time on your phone; spend more time in nature – fresh air, the ocean, a hike. It’s good for your soul and will help you live a longer, happier life

The first edition of North America’s 50 Best Bars, sponsored by Perrier, was announced at a live awards ceremony in New York on Tuesday 7th June 2022. Browse the website to discover the ranking and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube to stay up to date with all the news and announcements.