Skye Gyngell talks to The Sustainable Restaurant Association about their Waste No Food campaign

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th November 2017

This month The Sustainable Restaurant Association speak to chef Skye Gyngell about her Scratch menu and discuss their November campaign, Waste No Food.

Imagine the value of a chef or indeed sommelier who could turn water into wine. That kind of miracle would appear to be a distant dream, but amazing food-based alchemy is alive and well. Whether it’s coffee grounds and used cooking oil powering our cars and heating our homes or bread crusts being turned into real ale, transformations of items previously considered as waste are now commonplace. But, my goodness, it’s not a moment too soon that we’ve woken up, smelled the coffee and responded positively to the massive global issue that is food waste.

Remilled rye and oat crackers from Skye Gyngell
Remilled rye and oat crackers from Skye Gyngell

Whichever way you look at, its scale is scandalous on every level. If food waste were a nation it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases (after China and the USA), in large part due to the fact that more than a third of the food that’s grown and produced never gets eaten.

Zoom in a wee bit and you’ll find that the UK foodservice sector wastes nigh on a million tonnes of food every year – at an annual cost of £2.5bn, while eight million people struggle to afford to put food on the table. If these figures still seem too distant, how about this one: food waste costs the average restaurant £19,000 a year. And yet, three quarters of it is avoidable. Do the maths.

In these tough times of rising food prices (3 per cent last month), necessitating serious belt tightening, the Sustainable Restaurant Association is calling on everyone to be #WasteWatchers. The SRA’s Waste No Food campaign this November, is encouraging all foodservice businesses to do one more thing to reduce their waste. From beginners to waste warriors, everyone can do something extra to empty their bin. The cash prize that awaits is considerable and, as those chefs who are practising their own form of food waste alchemy will testify, the opportunities for creativity are close to limitless.

One chef who has already grasped the opportunity with both hands and a completely open mind, is Skye Gyngell of Spring.
She says: “A few years ago, the great Alice Waters told me that I had to raise my eyes up above the stove. She was so right and it’s true for all chefs – we have a duty to do more and go further. There is more than enough food on the planet to feed the world, but unless we make better use of what we grow. then the planet will not be able to sustain us.

“That was one of the main reasons why I decided last year that I had to do something at Spring to tackle this issue. The other reason was that I had made a commitment to the people who run the main farm that grows for us, Fern Verrow, that we would take all the fabulous produce they grow. I looked at how much of this gorgeous fruit and veg was ending up in the bin, like the cauliflower leaves and herb stalks.”

So, at the end of last year Skye introduced the Scratch menu: delicious, nutritious dishes using ingredients that would otherwise, for one reason or another be discarded, but still using fantastic produce.

The former Petersham Nurseries chef has been delighted with the response of both customers and her kitchen team.

Soft herbs, leaves and flowers
Soft herbs, leaves and flowers

“I handed over responsibility for the menu to the chefs and they have more than risen to the challenge. They feel validated as they can paint their own picture, coming up with ideas every single day – like today when we had lamb shank with middle eastern bread, over-sized lettuce leaves and yogurt made from the milk left over from the coffee bar. It’s been such fun. We have a dedicated Scratch shelf in the fridge and we’re constantly experimenting and trying new dishes.”

Finding new uses for foodstuffs that would historically have been jettisoned has been a remarkable revelation for Skye and her kitchen colleagues.

“I think the most exciting discoveries have been the yogurt we’ve made using the leftover coffee milk, and most amazingly, making cake from leftover bread – drying it out, re-milling it and re-creating flour.

“The amazing produce we get from Fern Verrow really doesn’t require that much work. The Scratch menu pushes the chefs to work that bit harder, to be that bit more creative. But they love it and it’s wonderful to see a younger crowd enjoy three proper, affordable courses. Taking the outer cauliflower leaves, blanching them, grilling them and serving them with coffee milk labneh is such a joy. Another of my favourites is using all of the stalks from the herbs and making them into delicious sauces for grilled meats.”

Skye says the Scratch menu has changed her whole approach to running a restaurant and recommends others follow suit if they want to inspire their brigade, wow customers and enjoy bottom line benefits.

“The whole process has changed my attitude too,” she adds. “I am now less cautious about what I think can go on the menu as well as more forward thinking, not just thinking about today. I know I can always use a good product, even if not immediately, whether fermenting or pickling or perhaps making it into a liqueur. It’s also helped me fulfil my commitment to sustain the farm.

“From a commercial point of view, it’s been good for Fern Verrow and good for us as a business too. Effectively, there are no food costs for the Scratch menu. The customer is getting to enjoy quality food at a reduced price and we are wasting practically nothing now and, as I try to be a part of the solution, that makes me feel really joyful and positive.

“I think all restaurants can learn something from this. My advice to chefs would be, when you’ve got some downtime, experiment. Cut the stems of the broccoli and try doing different things with them to see what works. Try pickling and fermenting. You’ll create delicious food, reduce your waste and save money.”

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th November 2017

Skye Gyngell talks to The Sustainable Restaurant Association about their Waste No Food campaign