Air: The Answer to Water Conservation


Kerry Jepsen
Will Blunt
Sierra Mar at Post Ranch Inn - Big Sur, CA
Sierra Mar at Post Ranch Inn - Big Sur, CA

There's no shortage of air in California.

One day in the Big Sur region of California, Chef John Cox of Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn was cleaning his spring harvest of morel mushrooms with canned air. That night, he used an air compressor to clean the kitchen’s ovens. While tidying up after a long shift, Cox stored the compressor beneath the dish station. He looked at the air compressor, then at the dish station, and then back at this air compressor. An idea washed over him: instead of pre-rinsing dishes by blasting them with water, Cox would blow away crumbs and scraps with air.

For $275, Cox installed a small, quiet air compressor with a standard hose and immediately reduced the restaurant’s water use by 800 gallons a day. Multiply that by the 60,000 full-service restaurants, 25,000 quick-service restaurants, 10,000 schools, and 20,000 hotels and corporate offices that call California home, and you start to sense the scale of Cox’s breakthrough. Another way to understand the math: Sierra Mar averages about 240 covers a day. In terms of water usage, that’s an average of three gallons of water a cover, saved.

“The level of interest has been incredible,” says Cox. “I've been recently contacted by Sprout Restaurant Group in L.A., MGM Resorts, and the San Diego Zoo. Several restaurants and clubs have already made the conversion, and I've gotten calls from Canada, Hong Kong, and New York.”

Nothing about Cox’s system is high tech or high cost. An industrious chef or handyman can easily install a one-gallon compressor near the dish pit, and the small tank lasts Sierra Mar about six weeks. “The stock air hose works well. But my latest development has been incorporating a high-power airstream controlled with a button that also releases a blast of hot steam or water for hard-to-clean items, patent pending,” says Cox.

Part of the solution to a major water usage problem was right in front of everyone’s faces, ubiquitous as the air we breath. It just took a resourceful chef to figure it out.

For more information, you can reach John Cox at or visit his blog


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