Sustainable Gastronomy 101 – A Chef’s Guide to Sustainable Dining
There are two key reasons for moving to more sustainable gastronomy: one is because climate change is threatening our very food supply, and the other is that how we are currently producing food is contributing to climate change. The proverbial chicken and egg.
A few years back, the United Nations declared June 18th Sustainable Gastronomy Day in an effort to promote and encourage sustainable dining across the globe.
For many there’s the will to take action but not the know how to do it. So Chef’s Pencil talked to a few sustainability experts, chefs who have incorporated sustainable food practices, and researched specific steps chefs and restaurant owners can take to become more sustainability friendly.
Let’s start with the basics and discover what sustainable gastronomy is and why is it important?
We talked to Dr Adenike Akinsemolu, a sustainability expert and environmentalist from the Green Institute.
“Sustainable gastronomy is the process of cookery that focuses on the ingredients’ source, how food is grown, the means by which it gets to the market, and eventually, to the plates of consumers. It is about choosing food that is both healthy to the environment and our bodies, a crucial aspect of sustainable gastronomy,” says Dr. Adenike Akinsemolu.
It is estimated that roughly 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted each year, a clear motivation for thinking about reducing food waste to protect the environment. And a backdrop to this is the estimation that demand for food is likely to rise by 50% by the year 2030, while demand for water is forecast to surge by 30% and land use by 50%.
Sustainable dining out, and eating at home of course, is one way to reduce wastefulness of natural resources, both contributing to the protection of the environment and encouraging healthier eating habits.
Many people are refocusing their approach to food and rethinking what they buy, hence contributing to more sustainable food production and consumption.
Now let’s talk look at the steps you can take to reduce waste and create a more sustainable dining system in your restaurant.
Designing a sustainable menu
- Reduce food waste: Food waste is one of the key issues and reducing food waste comes with tones of benefits.
- Keep it seasonal. This is one of the most powerful steps you can take toward sustainability.
- Offer more vegan and vegetarian options.
- Use less popular fish choices or those previously seen as ‘marine waste’.
- Be adaptable: be willing to change your menu depending on what is available.
- Design your menu to limit the number of ingredients and repurpose those usually thrown away.
Create plant strong dishes where the emphasis is on vegetables rather than meat or fish. Or you could have a vegan/vegetarian menu to which you can add meat or fish. Traditionally, vegan dishes are put together by removing other components. If you showcase a dish which is complete without animal products, you encourage people to eat more sustainably.Natasha Tatton of Bred, a 100% plant-based organic sourdough bakery in Whistler, BC, Canada
León has created a cuisine that elevates the disregarded into something exceptional. An example of this is the creation of marine charcuterie made completely with fish (comprised of sea bass, dogfish loin, sea bream, or mackerel sobrasada) to marine bacon (through the reuse of marine discards that were previously regarded as waste), to sea hare roe (similar to noodles). The latter was adapted from so-called waste to become an integral element of his three Michelin-star menuChef Ángel León via Fine Dining Lovers
- Use smaller plates: Many restaurants serve way too large portions of food. Reducing the size is not only more sustainable but can help prevent overconsumption.
- Customize portion size: Offer multiple sizes such as regular and lite. Portions can also be customized to meet the needs of individual clients or groups.
- Go trayless: People put too much stuff on their trays that they end up throwing away. And trays drive up water consumption by quite a lot (see video below).
Sourcing your food
- Buy locally: Support local farms and producers.
- Buy from farms that practice sustainability.
- Buy sustainable seafood: The basic rule to follow is, if they won’t tell you how or where they caught it, don’t buy it.
- Grow your own: Look around you for space you can use to grow things that you use a lot, such as herbs and salad greens. You could even keep bees in a roof garden. Perhaps use a cultivator.
Permaculture designer Elle Meager helped one restaurant add “picking beds” along the walkway up to the door, with cherry tomatoes and strawberries for guests to pick and taste as they walked in. They also added several fruit trees around the back of the restaurant to secure their supply of citrus.
“Our philosophy is zero kilometers. We only buy from local producers and we follow the seasons. We avoid food waste and our wine list is highly sustainable, featuring mostly natural bio-dynamic wines.”Chef Ana Roš, Hiša Franko
Dealing with waste
- Buy what you need: Buy optimized quantities for your daily or weekly needs rather than oversupply and then throw food away. Pastry shops that put foods on display should make displays appealing, but just that – don’t overstock.
- Strictly manage stock and expiration dates: Monitor expiration dates, food color, and smell and move menu items up to prevent as much food waste as possible. Look into point of sale systems that have an automated inventory management application. Some even allow you automate your inventory down to the ingredient level.
- Create a waste log: Write down what you’re throwing away and why. After a few weeks you’ll hopefully be able to discover some trends and can start making program adjustments to reduce waste. For example, if you find that on a certain day of the week certain dishes from the menu are ordered less, you can start prepping fewer of those ingredients on Tuesdays.
- Utilize every part of your ingredients: For example, don’t only use the best cuts from pork, veal, use it all.
- Set up an in-house composter or worm farm for all the left-overs. Worm juice and droppings
are used to fertilize the picking beds.
- Food donation: There are many organizations out there using what you might call waste to feed the homeless or food poor.
- Are you recycling? No excuses now – get a program sorted!
We use whole animals primarily, sharing between the two restaurants and using all the parts we get.Relae Restaurant Copenhagen
Pork is from HindsholmGrisen and the farmer lets his pigs live twice as long as other farmers, allowing a slow and natural growth – one year rather than 6 months. The pigs feed on 100% organic grains, peas and plants, roots and worms found in the ground, and they are never fed soy or concentrates.
Irena Stein, sustainability advocate and owner of contemporary Venezuelan restaurant Alma Cocina Latina, has been implementing sustainable practices in her cafes and restaurants for over 15 years.
She feels it her duty as a restaurant owner to take control of the impact she has on her communities and guests. Simple things like reducing the amount of trash pickup is a cost-saving.
For her, composting is a solution, not an alternative. The more restaurants support mission-based businesses working to reduce their carbon footprint the more accessible these services can become.
She is also conscious of the growing concern of food waste in today’s world and is currently working with her purveyors on a new project.
Using food they would have wasted, she can make over 1,500 meals a week for those in need in the Baltimore area. It is about redirecting waste and using it efficiently and effectively to feed those who need it most.
Check for water waste
- Monitor for leaky pipes and faucets.
- Only serve water to guests who ask for it.
- Make sure your dish washers are full.
- Thawing food in the refrigerator, not under a faucet.
Equipping your premises
- Buy sustainable equipment: Energy efficient equipment may initially cost more but having it can pay off more in the long run. Look for things like low flush toilets, energy star appliances, and energy star refrigeration. Make sure all your equipment like POS systems, lights, and ovens are turned off at close of business every day.
- Use green cleaning products.
- Buy apparel and napkins from fair trade materials.
- Use little or no paper.
- Buy furniture made from reclaimed wood.
- For your interior design, work with local, environmentally conscious artists.
- Use eco-friendly solar, geothermal for electric use where possible.
- Use washable serving equipment, glassware or reusable dishware.
- Don’t sell water in plastic bottles.
- Get rid of plastic straws.
- Drop the cling film and plastic vacuums.
We don’t sell pre-packaged bottled water at our restaurants. We use a filter system and we serve the water in our empty wine bottles. This means we have no transportation costs, no plastic waste and a way to recycle used glass bottles.
We have a policy of never pouring this drinking water into the sink, so when bottles return from the tables untouched, or partially consumed, we consolidate it and reuse it for cleaning the floor.Relae Restaurant, Copenhagen
We do not use cling film, vacuum bags nor foil – covers for pots and boxes were invented already centuries ago.Chef Peeter Pihel, Fotografiska, Tallinn, Estonia
Spread the message
- As a community service, restaurants, cafes, bakers, bars are all part of the social conversation. Once you’re happy with your sustainability, promote it. Let everyone know and you’ll inspire others along the same route.
- Think about “green” discounts. Perhaps reward guests who bike or walk to get their gastronomic fix.
- Check out this fantastic guide by Rethink Food Waste. It is the most comprehensive guide on food sustainability out there .
- Relae restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark is publishing an annual sustainability report which is incredibly detailed and truly inspiring. A must read for every chef and restaurant owner.