Having been a member of the SRA for a good few years now, it’s the normal, everyday little things we do at Cafe St Honoré that make a huge difference to food waste and sustainability. Initially it was very hard work to make sudden changes to let’s say, separating all our rubbish into different bins, but now after all these years of colour-coding and ensuring the entire team understands the reason we do it, it’s become so much easier.
To be honest, it took a long time for the staff to fully understand the importance of avoiding food waste in the first place. But keeping a very close eye on the kitchen and appointing a sustainability manager made policing what was thrown away much easier.
For the first few weeks of staff training we were all putting the wrong thing in the wrong bin and throwing away the odd end of an onion, but with constant supervision it became easier very quickly. By monitoring everything that goes in the bin and shrinking portion sizes by 15% we have seen a huge difference in turnover. And more profit means a bonus at the end of the year for staff. A great incentive.
When I took over Café St Honoré 10 years ago, everything went into one big council bin: drums of oil, food, cardboard, glass. Nothing was separated. Shortly afterwards I identified that a change was coming and addressed our waste management before it became the law. Now when I look at what we do in comparison, I’m extremely proud of how we, as a team, have saved thousands and become more environmentally aware.
Scotland was the first country to make it legal requirement to separate food waste, and I was lucky enough to advise a House of Lords committee on food waste in relation to how it can be taken forward. Hopefully the effect of a reduction in CO2 and methane leaking from landfill sites will be felt within our lifetime.
It’s simple: separate and save. We separate all our waste at Cafe, and encourage giving boxes back to delivery drivers. Yes, that can be greeted with a sigh from a grumpy driver, but it saves us money and the packaging can be reused for more deliveries.
Food of all sorts is either taken to my garden for composting or the guinea pigs, or turned into another form of energy anaerobic digestion. This however, is something we constantly try to avoid and reduce food waste in the first place by buying less, and using trimmings for soups and stocks and staff meals.
Coffee grounds go to the garden to deter slugs and snails and are very good for the soil when growing veg. And our waste oils are returned to the provider to be reused and turned into a fuel of sorts.
We have used a few agencies over the years to help us measure and monitor the amount of waste we produce. It was reassuring to see just how little waste we do actually create now, as our portion sizes are now slightly smaller, and the trimmings are all used. And with carrots for example, we leave the skin on!
Our favourite way to reuse and redistribute is by feeding the staff twice a day. We create really good food. It is astonishing what can be created from a tub of ends of veg, filled out with some pasta, or noodles and a splash of soy sauce. It’s still quite rare for restaurants to serve prime meats to their teams, but if something is left over from service then it’s good to give it to the team to try so they can tell our diners what it tastes like.
Bread is another brilliant example of ways to reuse ingredients. I see a lot of restaurants throwing out yesterday’s stale bread, which is such a waste. We make sourdough every day at Cafe which, when warmed and served the next day is absolutely perfect as it keeps for days. I encourage every chef to either buy or make a good sourdough and if it is going in the bin, at least remove the crusts and make breadcrumbs that can be popped in the freezer and used for treacle tarts. Or make bread and butter pudding, a fine dish. Or give it to the staff to take home, or a homeless charity. Never shove it in the bin.
I’m commited to continue to improve on what we’ve already achieved at Cafe St Honoré by learning new techniques, including looking back at old cookery books to find uses for leftovers. For example, Skye Gyngell at her restaurant Spring reusing and re-milling old bread and cakes to turn them into something else puts me in mind of bread puddings, queen of puddings, charlottes and of course, the mighty bread sauce. My favourite with a Sunday roast chicken.
Food waste has a real image problem. It’s almost a dirty word and admitting they eat leftovers still embarrasses some. This is surely madness. Our job here to do is change the mind set completely. If there is nothing wrong with something then why throw it away? With many struggling financially, and even relying on food banks, addressing food waste issues is the way forward. Keep it on the plate, dinnae bin it.
It can be a strain to take that first step in making a change, but trust me it can become addictive. Be proud of your changes. There is plenty help out there from local councils regarding separation of food waste, and the SRA offer fantastic forward-thinking plans and ways to encourage your staff, give them incentives and make them part of the business. Make that first change, one thing a week for a 6-week period, and watch the profits rise.