Suis Generis: Zero-Waste Restaurant, Food Lab Changing Minds and Palates

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Neighborhood restaurant treasure Suis Generis has been bringing new meaning to the phrase “waste not, want not” in the Bywater neighborhood since 2012.

Suis Generis’ zero-waste philosophy (and delicious menu) represents the first of its kind in the city and is at the forefront of a movement that is gaining traction as New Orleans (and the world) grapples with the impacts of climate change. In addition to the restaurant, founder Ernest Foundas has created a sister program that provides innovative farm-to-table ingredients from his Tiki Farm & Food Lab.

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For Foundas, launching Suis Generis was a natural evolution of his lifelong enthusiasm for cooking that also created a passion project that nurtured the community beyond the plate in a more sustainable way.

“The idea for the ever-changing menu at Suis Generis dates back to the 1980s when I worked for catering companies and a staffing company that would send me out to different restaurants to work fill-in shifts,” he said. “I loved cooking different things every week. Once Suis Generis got going in 2012, we realized that the changing menu also helped minimize food waste. So, increasingly, we focused more and more on minimizing food spoilage by ordering small increments, pickling, fermenting and using all aspects of each ingredient.”

Foundas’ culinary mentors are many, varying from family members to legendary New Orleans chefs who guided his love for cooking at an early age and well beyond.

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“I started cooking as a young child, first by following around my grandmother, cooking Greek food, and my grandfather, who was a diner chef,” he said. “I then started hanging around Commander’s Palace with some of the owner’s children when Paul Prudhomme was the chef. Amazingly, he took time to introduce me to cooking techniques and I was hooked. I then worked numerous line jobs before and during college.”

While cooking and being an active part of the restaurant community was always part of the plan, Foundas received advice that would guide him from the kitchen to the courtroom, a path that continues to reward him and his culinary efforts.

“After college, one of my chefs asked about my long-term plans, to which I said I wanted to own my own restaurant with an always-changing menu,” he said. “I also expressed interest in going to culinary or business or law school because I saw restaurants with great food fail due to lack of knowledge on the business side. That chef told me to get a higher degree and make money to fund my unusual restaurant concept – because line cooks don’t make a lot of money and investors will always want to cut your creativity in favor of profits. So, I went to law school and continued cooking for catering companies and doing restaurant fill-in work on weekends and nights to keep my cooking skills sharp. Now I represent bars and restaurants on the law side and still cook at night and weekends at Suis Generis.”

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Suis Generis (whose name means “unique”) features a weekly menu guided by what’s in season, what’s new and exciting in the culinary world, as well as input from Foundas’ team of seven regular employees. It’s a philosophy Foundas said keeps both customers and staff members engaged and interested in seeing what’s next.

“It starts with a list of what is available from our farm and items we have on hand from the past menus and ongoing ferments,” he said. “We also often have a theme or general idea — like comfort foods, or spice trail flavors. We have a chef meeting on Monday night where we create the menu for the upcoming week.”

Foundas’ “farm” is Tiki Farm & Food Lab, 4.5 acres of bayou-front property in nearby Pearlington, Mississippi, that he purchased in 2018 with the idea of creating a farm and food innovation lab that would literally feed the restaurant with unique culinary items and fresh produce.

“We bought the Tiki Farm property after visiting an amazing farm in Fiji about six years ago,” he said. “We were blown away with the unusual ingredients and decided we could do some of that in the Gulf Coast area. Also, having a farm helped to further our zero-waste quest because we could implement a program that now helps us to compost the items we can’t process through other cooking processes.

Tiki Farms provides not only fresh produce for the restaurant, but also hosts lectures, food experiences and tours, in order to teach others about sustainable food practices, and to eventually supply more area chefs with local ingredients.

Prices for in-person food experiences or private events start at $100. Free farm and food production instruction is also available on the farm’s website and blog.

Previous food experiences at Tiki Farms have included classes on zero-waste cooking, an introduction to fermentation, miso making, house-made vinegars, vegan cheese making, pairing music with food, and “one that we call ‘ode to the chef’ where the guests write an eight-line poem that we turn into an eight-course tasting menu,” Foundas said.

Through Suis Generis and Tiki Farms, Foundas hopes to inspire more chefs, home cooks and foodies to embrace zero-waste practices, try new techniques and enjoy the process along the way.

“[Tiki Farms is for] people who love to experiment with food flavors and who have a thirst for knowledge,” he said. “Our mission is to seek umami and share the process with the public. Fermentation is good for you, and people should not be afraid of it… We bring fabulous food to people who appreciate our unique approach and quest to accentuate the complexity of flavor while respecting all aspects of every ingredient.”

Suis Generis

3219 Burgundy St. // 504-309-7850 //
Open Fridays and Saturdays, 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Sundays, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Tiki Farm & Food Lab

167 Florida Blvd. //Pearlington, Mississippi


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