How sustainable is the hospitality industry?

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th February 2015
SRA-Awards-2014-1The hospitality industry isn’t readily associated with sustainable food. Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares wouldn’t have quite the same blockbuster appeal if it focused on fish stocks and waste management. Nevertheless, sustainability is an issue debated the world over and the chefs were bound to get a look in at some point. We’ve taken a look at some of the UK’s most sustainable restaurants and the organisation supporting them: The Sustainable Restaurant Association. The SRA was founded in 2010. Their goal was to help restaurants operate responsibly and to provide diners with a simple means of choosing places to eat out that match their values. Mark Linehan, Managing Director of the SRA, said: “We know that the life of a chef is full-on, and they are often left with little or no time to tackle the issues they feel strongly about. The SRA can fill the role of a mix between a virtual sustainability consultant and a critical friend,” He added: “Many of the advantages of a sustainable kitchen can be achieved by straightforward changes in behaviour and once the changes have been made they can become good habits for life.” raymondThe SRA now has over 4,500 members. The extraordinarily eclectic range of restaurants includes Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles and Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons alongside large groups like Pizza Express, Costa Coffee and several Universities. Raymond Blanc, chef patron of Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and President of The SRA, wrote in a letter to SRA members: “I accepted the SRA’s offer to be its President because I believe we are at a crossroads, on the verge of something genuinely magnificent. Already British food and cuisine are recognised as being amongst the best in the world. If we take the right steps now we can ensure this continues for generations to come. If we fail to adopt this way of working we will miss the opportunity of a lifetime and lose the chance to leave a significant legacy for chefs and diners.” Sustainable restaurants are nothing new but, until recently, they have been the exception to prove the rule. In hospitality, taste is king, and Simon Rogan’s technical approach paired with his relationship with nature has inspired a style of food with deep roots to its surroundings. The adoption of this style is a huge step on the road to sustainability and Simon has been a pioneer since opening his Cumbria-based restaurant, L’Enclume, in 2002. The Staff Canteen was able to speak to Simon about how he goes about sourcing his ingredients: “We don't have major suppliers here at L'Enclume. We have many, many artisan suppliers who Simon Roganspecialise in their own fields i.e. we have a brilliant potato grower, not too far away from here and the Holker Estate is on our doorstep for our milk fed lamb at the moment. It’s the same for all our suppliers mostly here in Cumbria. “The taste of any produce is of paramount importance to us and that just-picked flavour cannot be beaten. The difference in taste between our carrots and a bought-in carrot was the size of the universe.” Admittedly Simon’s approach is predominantly taste-led but a more sustainable restaurant is the obvious consequence. Not just that, Simon Rogan is one of the most accomplished and successful chefs in the UK, proving that sourcing local ingredients is not just a more sustainable alternative but also creates popular and delicious cuisine. David Colcombe is the executive chef at Birmingham’s Opus at Cornwall Street. Opus was rated as a three star sustainability champion in July 2013. He said: “We try to maintain sustainability in all kinds of ways. First of all with the sourcing of the products but we also change our menu on a daily basis, that’s really important. Having that ability to write a menu each day gives you the ability to be flexible with your ingredients and your sources.” David ColcombeDavid is a big advocate of an intimate relationship with nature in his food and notes that this is nothing new, nor does it sacrifice taste: “Some of the best chefs in the world go foraging" he said. "It’s all about taste at the end of the day and locally-sourced ingredients are inadvertently the tastiest because of freshness.” David has also noticed how popular the use of local ingredients has been with his customers, he said: “Customers actually really like it. We do ‘source dinners’ where we invite local suppliers to come and do a talk and we prepare a meal around it. It’s an education thing as much as anything and customers really appreciate it, they really like knowing where their food is coming from. It’s not all about Michelin stars, as long as you care about what you do I think you’ll be successful.” The SRA’s latest consumer research supports David’s view that customers are increasingly aware and appreciative of sustainability in the hospitality industry. Their research shows that 14% of the UK population, over seven million people, engages in sustainable action, eat out regularly and want a dining experience to match the values they practice at home. Suzanne O’Connor is the executive chef of Contini Ristorante in Edinburgh. Carina and Victor Contini established the restaurant with a vision to combine seasonal Scottish food with authentic Italian cuisine. Suzanne has worked hard to create a more sustainable restaurant and has, like David, been awarded with three stars by the SRA. She said:Image-of-suzanne-680x350 “It’s not a matter of reinventing the wheel and the questions we ask aren’t complicated. We ask things like why you’d bother buying or importing a flower display when we’ve got a herb garden and could make our own. A lot of the time, the result is aesthetically nicer anyway. Being more sustainable does not mean you have to sacrifice anything.” Making a restaurant more sustainable has its problems because one of the biggest positives can also be the most significant drawback: chefs are immediately more vulnerable to the unpredictable whims of Mother Nature. Suzanne recognises this and said: “It can cause problems. We could be expecting to have a really good yield from our garden with a particular vegetable only for it to fail. Sometimes we have a far better yield than expected. It’s not as easy to plan but it’s a lot more natural. Seeing strawberries or asparagus on a menu in January makes me cry. There’s no need for it.” Suzanne restaurant“You might need a bit more initiative but that’s one of the joys of being a chef: designing a menu out of the seasonal ingredients you’ve got. When we do get an abundant crop we need to be resourceful and make chutneys, relishes etc. It’s fun and it’s nice seeing the improvements in our chefs.” The SRA know only too well that the idea of chefs being overworked and underpaid is a common one. Their aim is to make it as easy as possible for kitchens to be more sustainable, doing the work that chefs may well want to do but don’t have the time for. Suzanne said: “The SRA are brilliant. They give you information and they push you. They’re very open with us. "They’ll tell us what they think we’re doing well but, more importantly, they point out where we can improve. It’s not that they’re telling us what to do, we all want the same result so it’s very much a team effort.” As Raymond Blanc points out, Britain has become one of the world’s leading gastronomic nations and the move to sustainability can ensure that this is the case for future generations. He is right to warn us: “If we fail to adopt this way of working we will miss the opportunity of a lifetime and lose the chance to leave a significant legacy for chefs and diners.”SRA_1col Nevertheless, as we have seen, British chefs are working hard to become more sustainable and The SRA will continue to make it easier for chefs to do so. By Tom Evans @tevans43 The Sustainable Restaurant Awards have just announced their shortlist with a prison restaurant to fish and chip shops to The Pig (nominated in the categories) all hoping to scoop the prize.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th February 2015

How sustainable is the hospitality industry?