Our journey to a more sustainable restaurant...
Before we start, let me say that if you want a truly sustainable or a zero to landfill business and you want it to be easy, then don't open a restaurant. Nothing is easy, everything costs more and requires far more effort than you can imagine!
That was our goal before we opened in September 2017 and that was before we realised what a mammoth challenge it is in the modern world. However, that has never stopped us trying to achieve these ambitions and to make us, and others, reduce the impact we have on the environment.
This blog is mainly set up to help us document our struggles, in it we intend to discuss both our success' and our failures. And maybe by doing so, someone out there can help us find a solution to some of the more tricky to solve problems. We are by no means perfect and we have a very long way to go to be zero waste but by talking about our failures maybe we can find to solutions to problems that we alone could not solve.
I came to all my realisations about sustainability and biodiversity because I fell in love with the way food tastes. That was it. And because I was looking for that taste, I fell at the doorsteps of the organic, local, sustainable farmers, dairy people and fisherman.
This was number one on our list before we opened and as it turned out, the easiest to solve. Most food waste in commercial properties is taken away and burnt for biofuel, but we wanted a solution that is smaller in scale and one that benefited the community we work in. We have long been admirers of Silo restaurant in Brighton, not only for their incredible plant focused menu and their zero waste business as a whole, but mainly their amazing on-site aerobic composting machine. This was never going to be an option for us due to our small premises, but that does not mean that there was not an equally interesting alternative. We settled on the Ridan, a composter that can process all bio food waste, and so we decided to purchase one and it is now situated at the wonderful Windmill Community Gardens in Margate. This allows us to take all of our food waste from the restaurant to the Ridan every week and turn it into compost that is in turn used to fertilise the organic and pesticide-free vegetables that we buy from them, closing the loop. It sounds simple but it takes a lot of time and effort to put on your wellies in the driving rain to put smelly food waste into the Ridan!
Part of trying to run a sustainable business is using suppliers that understand what it means to have minimal impact on the environment that they work in. We always have, and always will use the MSC guide as our starting point for our menus and it is through the MSC guide that we found our fish supplier. Situated in Hastings, they are a MSC certified fish supplier, providing us with the freshest seafood (delivered in re-useable containers that are taken away every day) straight to our door. Hastings may seem a long way away when there are fisherman situated a short distance from the restaurant, but we use them because not only is the quality amazing, but it provides us with the knowledge that they were caught with minimal impact on our seas. Read this article about the fishermen and women that provide us with the freshest plaice and dover sole, caught by people that care about our oceans.
The cost of sustainable products
The commercial kitchen has, over the years, become a huge consumer of plastic items and unnecessary packaging. The usual process in most restaurants is to order from one or two large catering suppliers that deliver everything you need – from sponges and cling film, through to cleaning detergent and soft drinks. We quickly realised this was never going to work for us, we could not continue on the path of reducing our waste by utilising distributors for companies that are set up to produce items in large quantities. We had to go directly to the producer – and so we started to research everything we need and at the same time removing anything that wasn't absolutely necessary. Cling film for example never has, and never will be, used in our kitchen. We found environmentally friendly cleaning products with no harmful chemicals, we found compostable sponges (more on this later) and, most noticeably, we also found they come at a cost! Everything done this way costs more both in terms of the product itself and its delivery. And the best bit is, we don't mind. This expense means that we are usually helping a business that cares about our surroundings, so when someone says one of our dishes is a touch on the pricey side, we can say it is not because we are making huge margins on all our ingredients, but because we are paying the price for supporting people that make a difference.
One of the first items we needed when opening was butter – from appetizers through to desserts – it is ubiquitous across the kitchen. For the first few months we did what everyone did, we bought beautiful, pre-packaged butter from suppliers, thinking we would reuse the metal sleeve that arrives in (you may see this on cooking shows as they gently steam a fish with the butter wrapper on top), but in a commercial kitchen it is not that perfect – we use a lot of butter and we had no realistic chance of using all the wrappers. So to eliminate this from Angela's, we use the wonderful Jane at the Cheesmakers of Canterbury who now makes all of our butter for cooking, supplied in re-usable containers without any packaging. And the butter for our bread? Well – we make that ourselves in the kitchen....