In the luxury world, it’s not often that the buzzword du jour is ‘waste’. But when it comes to fine dining, going zero waste is the movement of the moment. But is the zero waste food trend here to stay? Or does true fine dining demand ecological compromise?
We spoke to a pioneer of the zero waste industry and founder of Silo (a waste-free fine dining restaurant in Brighton with a second site opening in London’s Hackney this summer) Douglas McMaster about the new philosophy of waste not, want not.
Tell us a little about the zero waste industry and movement in food…
I think zero waste is so popular because it’s so simple. In this very complicated wasteful world, something so pure is naturally attractive. The food industry in the last 50 years has become incredibly wasteful mainly due to industrialised food systems creating so much convenience and choice.
Furthermore, the culture that this food system has allowed to breed is one with unnatural expectations and an unhealthy appetite for perfection. That’s not to mention the packaging waste, which is, of course, a phenomenal strain on the environment, our economy and resources. My challenge at my zero waste restaurant ‘Silo’ in Brighton is to make consistently brilliant food without generating any waste.
Is there any way to know which restaurants and businesses are practising zero or limited waste policies?
Unfortunately not. I’d love to create a ‘zero waste certification’ to help guide restaurants on maximising their resources to minimise their waste.
Why do you think it’s taken this long for people to start paying attention to these issues and needs? Why now?
This food industrialisation I refer to is only really taken hold in the last 50 years, mostly giving us what we want. The trouble is that we are only just starting to understand the downsides to this. Processed food is making us ill, and the environment is also ill because of the way we’re processing the food.
How can we have more of a ‘zero waste’ attitude in our own lives?
Start by looking at every purchase as a vote. If you buy fast food you are voting for fast food to exist, if you buy organic food you are voting for an organic future, if you buy something with no packaging you are voting for zero waste. It’s important to never underestimate these small actions.
How can this tie into other areas of life?
Zero waste works hand in hand with Minimalism and other lifestyle movements which can bring great relief on life’s anxious demands. Practically speaking it will save you money, it’s likely to make you healthier because most zero waste purchases are whole, organic and bring back fundamental life trends (such as cooking) which are philosophically crucial to our existence.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
It is important to me to work with brands taking zero waste and sustainability seriously. I recently collaborated with Patrón Tequila for their Patrón Secret Dining Society event alongside innovative mixologist Iain Griffiths of Mr Lyan Ltd. It was great to present a zero waste menu perfectly paired with a set of Iain’s adventurous cocktails at the event. It was the perfect opportunity to align myself with a fellow brand taking sustainability seriously, in the knowledge that the production processes Patrón use in Jalisco Mexico to make their tequila are sustainable. For example, instead of disposing of the unused hand-harvested agave in the production process as waste, Patrón takes it and mixes it with the remaining concentrated stillage to create organic compost for growing crops on the Hacienda’s grounds and shares it with the local community to fertilise the surrounding agave fields.
Consider all food as a living thing, if you eat dead denatured processed food packed with things unnaturally our bodies will suffer, whereas if we eat food that’s alive, we will prosper.
Find out more about Douglas & Silo at silobrighton.com.
Zero-Waste Dining in the UK
Where to eat
Douglas also opened stylish Hoxton spot Cub – this one along with bartender Ryan Chetiyawardana, a pioneer of waste-free cocktails. Everything is sustainable, from the food to the way staff are treated. Food is sustainably sourced, while the restaurant itself is designed with the environment in mind: the walls are made of breathable clay, the table tops are made from recycled yoghurt pots, and plates are made from recycled plastic bags. It’s only open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, allowing the chefs to get the time off they need to function best.
Notting Hill’s Farmacy is concerned not only with healthy eating, but the health of the planet. Here they use the whole plant from root to fruit, and all packaging is 100 per cent recyclable or compostable.
Bristol’s Poco Tapas Bar was named the most sustainable restaurant of the year in 2016 thanks to its commitment to the zero waste movement. They adopt a ‘root to fruit’ philosophy, with 95-100 per cent of food waste composted and recycled and products chosen with little or no packaging. Chefs and waiters weigh the rubbish bags each day, keeping a record of what is being wasted so it can be reduced in the future. Meanwhile LED lighting is used throughout the restaurant, with all power drawn from renewable energy.
Located on trendy Old Street, Adam Handling’s café and beer shop Bean & Wheat uses by-products and offcuts from Adam’s neighbouring restaurant The Frog Hoxton, creating a cycle of sustainability. Cutting food waste is a top priority here, for instance leftover duck livers from The Frog are used to create duck liver parfait, while a pork terrine is made from pork offcuts.
Over the last few years chef Sat Bains has been working to make his Michelin-starred eponymous restaurant greener, with measures such as switching to LED lights and energy-efficient induction hobs and investing in a composting system. In 2018, Sat Bains was rated the fourth best restaurant in the world in The TripAdvisor’s Traveller’s Choice awards.
A leader the eco-friendly food movement, Daylesford Brompton Cross celebrates a zero-waste policy, ensuring packaging is recyclable, reusable or compostable, and no food is thrown away. Any extra food is sent to The Felix Project, who go on to redistribute it to those in need around London, while straws are made from wheat stalks and customers are encouraged to bring their own reusable cups. Fitting, then, that the three-storey space is designed around a huge oak tree, which was saved by the Bamford family and transformed into a piece of natural art.
Ottolenghi’s new restaurant Rovi uses fermentation techniques to make vegetables more interesting, and recycles heat energy from the kitchen to heat the space. Fruit and vegetables are sourced sustainably from a biodynamic farm in Sussex, while all unused produce is reused in other forms, for instance unused wine goes towards making vinegar, and unsold coffee grounds helps cook hasselback lime beetroots.
Clos19 recently launched a new supper club series with Refettorio Felix, a dining space in St Cuthbert’s Centre. Guests will sit down to a delicious 3-course meal made from surplus food, with a different chef taking the lead for each evening. All proceeds will go towards Refettorio Felix, which was launched in 2017 by Chef Massimo Bottura’s non-profit organisation Food For Soul, with the aim of promoting social awareness about food wastage and hunger. Skye Gyngell and Spring head chef Rose Ashby will be guest chefs at the next event, taking place on 2 July. Tickets cost £90pp. Book through Clos19.com
The name to know is culinary director Skye Gyngell, who you’ll be familiar with from her work at Spring, Somerset House. Her seed-to-plate philosophy goes further than any other, with almost nothing going to waste, and menus carefully planned around seasonal, estate-grown ingredients.
Where to shop
A new zero waste store opened recently in Hackney Downs Studios, a community of independent artists and small businesses in East London. There’s no single-use plastic rule on site, and you can buy everything from coffee to herbs and spices to cleaning products. Food is sourced locally, from suppliers like Mission and Ombra pasta, with a number of sustainable lifestyle products also for sale such as Elephant Box food containers and Chilly’s water bottles.
Another Hackney spot, Bulk Market is all about making things simple. All you need to do is bring your own reusable container, fill it with the goods you want, weigh and pay. Buy everything from grains to dog food to essential oils, alongside lots of organic fresh produce.
At South London shop Hetu, they sell vegan, organic, zero waste products, with sustainable or reusable packaging. Gravity bulk bins are made from glass, herbs and spices are found in wooden topped jars with vintage spoons, and a plastic-free machine grinds fresh nut butter.
Based inside Tooting Market, BYO encourages customers to fill up their own containers with foods like pasta, seeds, spices and cereals. You’ll also find a good selection of plastic-free accessories here, like KeepCups and tote bags.