Sustainable food goes mainstream

Chefs and restaurateurs are waking up to the importance of reducing food waste – with delicious results…

About 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted every year, equating to a third of the entire world’s consumption. It’s a staggering statistic and one that we, as consumers, need to take seriously when thinking about what we buy, cook and throw away in our own households. The issue is also hugely significant in the hospitality sector, with food waste estimated to cost UK restaurants more than £680 million a year. Fortunately, chefs and restaurateurs are increasingly taking a more proactive approach to limiting unused produce, as new pop-up venues at Selfridges and Somerset House take the idea of sustainable eating into the mainstream.

The New York-based chef Dan Barber, who is pioneering a more thoughtful approach to food production, has recently brought his ‘wastED’ concept (the ‘ED’ signifying ‘education’) from Manhattan to London, with an exciting pop-up on the Selfridges rooftop. Held in partnership with Krug Champagne, the concept is designed to create beautiful and delicious dishes out of food that is normally deemed unsellable or unpalatable. Almost everything in the restaurant is made from waste materials, from the old Krug barrels that have been transformed into serveware to the mushroom-based lampshades and even the artichoke used in manufacturing the chairs. The menu features inventive dishes such as kale trees (the stalks of the plants are normally left in the field after their leaves have been harvested, but are here presented to diners as a kind of pick-your-own garnish), spent hen’s broth, a whole cod’s head and a panna cotta made from cocoa husks.

Equally innovative is Skye Gyngell’s new ‘Scratch’ menu at Somerset House’s Spring restaurant. Named after the expression ‘scratch tea’, used in Gyngell’s native Australia to convey the idea of pulling together a meal from food scraps, the affordably priced menu consists of dishes made from seasonal ingredients left over from cooking the à la carte selection, along with donations from farmers and producers with whom the restaurant collaborates on a daily basis. With combinations such as cod’s roe with bruschetta, lamb kofta with preserved lemons and rhubarb-yoghurt ice cream with polenta and jam on offer, it’s a menu that doesn’t compromise on taste while staying true to its sustainable philosophy.

London isn’t the only city that’s leading the charge when it comes to promoting less wasteful food production. Brighton is home to the UK’s first zero-waste restaurant, Silo, whose chef Doug McMaster is passionate about naturally produced, locally sourced ingredients, while earlier this year Mary Ellen McTague successfully launched a crowdfunding bid to open a waste-food restaurant in Manchester, as part of the Real Junk Food Project. Technology is also helping to broaden awareness of the issue, with apps such as Olio connecting neighbours with one another, and with local shops, to promote the sharing of surplus food.

The ‘wastED’ pop-up at Selfridges is open unti 2 April. Skye Gyngell’s three-course ‘Scratch’ menu (£20) is available every day from 5.30pm to 6.45pm at Spring, Somerset House, and will also be served at Table, a community eating house in the new wing of Somerset House, open from 17 to 21 May to coincide with Photo London. 

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