Food on the Edge 2016: Dougie McMaster

The  Staff Canteen

Next week we will be at Food on the Edge 2016 festival so let’s take a final look at one of this year’s speakers, Dougie McMaster from Silo in Brighton.

This ‘zero waste’ restaurant was the first of its kind in the UK, and was conceived from ‘a desire to innovate the food industry whilst demonstrating respect: respect for the environment, respect for the way our food is generated and respect for the nourishment given to our bodies’.

We spoke to Dougie about his culinary journey to where he is now, the challenges he faces as a zero waste restaurant and why he wanted to be a part of the Food on the Edge symposium.

Dougie’s story is similar to most chefs, he fell out of love with school and fell into the kitchen but it wasn’t the food which attracted him there at first.  “It was more the environment,” explained Dougie. “The kitchen was this pirate ship kind of environment and I’ve always liked that. I was more interested in the lifestyle first and then I fell in love with food.”

Dougie’s zero waste ethos developed quite naturally, he found himself working in restaurants that may not have taken it to the level he has with Silo but they were dealing with ethical and ecological and sustainable food issues, almost without knowing it.

He said: “I was at St John in London and people were tagging them as sustainable. It’s incredibly sustainable – they’re maximising resources. Then I was in Copenhagen and in restaurants over there it’s like everything wild – you’re using the roots of vegetables rather than the vegetables! By default, it was more ecological food I guess. When I was in Australia there was a designer and an artist making buildings from waste materials and it was when I met him that it all clicked. There’s a Dutch guy called Joost Bakker, he wasn’t a chef but he was really into food and he designed living, breathing buildings and had this great idea to have no waste produced from it.”

In 2011 Dougie quickly became executive chef and business partner of ‘SILO by Joost’, he said: “I was the boss so it was down to me to make it work. The thing is, the zero waste thing is like a system and my experience didn’t really lend anything to that system. Everything comes in without a package and if it does have a package, it’s biodegradable and there’s a compost machine.”

With this ethos in mind it’s hardly surprising that he is on the bill for the Food on the Edge which is themed around the future of food. His topic choice is Zero Waste - Literal or Philosophical? And when you listen to him talk you can see why organiser JP McMahon thought it was important to have him there.

Dougie said: “I did the Galway Food Festival last year and met JP there and immediately I was just like “this guy is cool as f**k, he’s awesome” and I’ve just been following him since. I just love him, I think he’s a force of nature. He’s trotting everywhere across the globe just doing the right things and I just had a lot of time for him. If he asked me to do something, I’d say yes!”

He added: “Zero waste can be very literal and I can literally say there is no such thing as zero waste. Every single part of my restaurant will eventually be waste. Unless it’s totally natural and can go into something to be broken down to create more life, it’s eventually going to be waste. So there is no such thing as zero waste but that doesn’t change the beautiful idea of it.

“It’s a way of thinking, it’s a behaviour and it’s applying yourself to daily logical and ethical decisions. You can be very literal about it, you can calculate how much waste you’ve got and you can be literal and say that nothing leaves the building, food, produce, people. Produce goes into people’s bellies or a compost tube’s belly and the only thing that leaves is compost which is not waste at all, it’s a productive life giving thing. My other term is ‘thinking in circles’ because when you study ecology or permaculture, you realise how all these closed loops interconnect. I had the idea that if you can design items from nature, why can’t you design a system from nature?”

Unlike most chefs, Dougie is very restricted in what he can use within his restaurant. Other chefs will use oils, vinegars, soy glazes but he can’t use anything unless it come in a reusable container – he only deals with raw produce.

“We have to make everything on site so we’re very limited,” he explained. “I love the idea of making a British fish sauce but they’ve been making it in China for centuries so trying to do that isn’t easy! In fact, I would say that all specialist items, I can’t use. I’m literally dealing with raw produce so whole animals and vegetables and herbs whereas another chef would have all of them then he’d have a whole artillery of condiments and flavourings and oils and vinegars that are all very high end specialist and taste good.

“I don’t want to say it’s cheating but it’s so much easier! You can cook a scallop badly and cover it with soy glaze and it will taste good. There’s no skill in that, there’s no pride in that. It’s very frustrating because you know that it’s not delicious, they’ve added all these intense condiments that are just easy. It is very frustrating but hopefully one day someone will appreciate what I’m doing.”

He added: “The way in which we trade zero waste is like containers, vessels, bottles that are in a cycle so you need to design space for all of these containers to efficiently come in and out. You have to design a compost machine. We had to design a space to electrolyse water – we call it ‘Jesus water’! You need this big machine so that you don’t need to buy any chemicals to clean. Lots of things we’ve had to design in.”

Silo opened in Brighton in 2014 and Dougie has so far attracted a good crowd with his ‘cool’ and quirky environment and ethos around waste.

“It really is a new topic. It sounds bonkers but five years ago no one was talking about it and in all the restaurants in the world they were just like “throw it away, throw it away”. No one felt bad for wasting anything.”

Talking through his menu, it’s clear every dish has it’s challenegs but all very different to a regular chef in a regular kitchen.

He said:I’ll start with a dessert that’s never left our menu because of what it represents and how delicious it is. It’s a sea buckthorn jelly. Obviously sea buckthorn is a wild berry and it’s incredibly nutritious and diverse in what you can do with it. It’s got this amazing acidity and it grows throughout the year. You bottle it and the pH keeps it so it’s got this amazing shelf life naturally. No one is really using it – a couple of chefs here and there but it’s not common in the kitchen.

“We’re turning that into a jelly and a granita then we’re making a green oil from Douglas fir which is incredibly delicious and then we make a brown butter mousse – some of our cream from the farm which was in a pail, then we cook butter to collect the brown butter solid and then the brown butter goes in the fish dish.

"Then we have a brown butter and rye crumb – we freshly mill whole rye. It’s kind of like a crumble but we use chopped brown butter. For me that dish represents tapping into food resources that no one has other than a token bit that you see every so often. It’s not maximised like we’re doing.”

He added: “We do an ox liver and fermented potato paste dish and it’s bloody incredible. It’s all very technically cooked – we poach the ox liver in 5% stock brine to 52 degrees and then shove it in an ice bath. Then we slice it up ready for service. Then we have something called ‘forbidden fruit’, which means we foraged it from private property and we got in a lot of trouble for that. Elderberries and mulberries and then there’s the fermented potato paste.

"We basically make these dumplings – roast the potato, pass it through a sieve and then we’ve got all these potato skins. We don’t want to do the boring thing of just frying them, so we ferment the skins and make it into this thick paste and it’s so delicious. Somewhere in between Marmite and peanut butter – it’s really good!

"Then the bright acidic flavours of the autumnal berries are so good with the potato and liver. When you look at that dish, it’s a dish of waste, defined by the processes of foraging, breaking down the whole animal and using the skins.”

Dougie talks a lot about synchronised food, whole ingredients that are broken up into various components and not all of those will go into one dish but they’ll be split into different dishes.

He explained: “Sometimes I call Silo food ‘processed food’ – it’s a direct link to ‘processed food’ but it means the exact opposite because when I say that it just means our end product is defined by our process. It’s the way in which we’re milling flour and churning butter and butchering whole animals. It’s using every bit of every vegetable. The food is created with the inspiration coming from that process.”

Silo    

There is no doubt Dougie is bringing a very unique view to Food on the Edge but also a successful example, Silo recently won Best ethical restaurant in the Observer Food Monthly Awards. So what does he think about JP’s equally innovative approach to creating Food on the Edge?

“Fortune favours the brave! I think that he’s tremendously brave – I would have perhaps thought of something like that but wouldn’t have had the balls to do it. I opened a zero-waste restaurant, I must have some form of courage.

"It is an exciting prospect for food culture in this part of the world absolutely. We’re all sort of interested in what each other are doing and having this food festival, there’s a lot of people in England talking about it and going to it and it’s going to affect a lot of Great Britain.”

Ticket prices for the two day event includes lunch on both days, entry to Monday night party where the audience gets to meet and mingle with speakers. Tickets can be purchased from www.foodontheedge.ie

For a full List of confirmed Food On The Edge Speakers for 2016 visit: http://www.foodontheedge.ie/speakers.html 

>>> Read more on Food on the Edge 2016

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th October 2016

Food on the Edge 2016: Dougie McMaster