From Australia to Fiji: making no-waste the norm
It’s been years since the word ‘sustainability’ first became a serious part of the foodservice vernacular. No longer a buzzword, chefs and restaurateurs around the world are far more environmentally aware, and it’s having a very real impact on the way they do business. Terms like food miles, minimal intervention and nose-to-tail are almost unavoidable in hospitality these days, and while some aspects of sustainability can sometimes seem too daunting or too expensive to implement, waste minimisation is something that every chef can embrace, and the benefits extend far beyond the bottom line.
Here, we talk to two chefs working in very different surroundings on how they’re getting as much as they can from the produce around them.
Amanda Fuller, Group Executive Chef at the Sam Prince Hospitality Group
Having worked extensively overseas, Amanda Fuller is now driving the culinary offering at Sydney’s Sam Price Hospitality Group, which operates brands including INDU, Mejico and Kid Kyoto.
While she says sustainability has always been a big focus for the businesses she’s worked within, she’s definitely noticed a surge in the number of venues paying closer attention to where and how they source produce.
“Ethical and sustainable food has always been a huge consideration everywhere I have worked, particularly in London, and in Sydney more now than before I left,” she said.
“Thanks to the foodie TV phenomenon, people are more aware of waste than ever. Chefs are expected to be savvier with menus, techniques and mastering cost of goods. And the amazing suppliers nowadays are making it easier for us; the way they’re in contact with chefs, educating them on ingredients that were once considered less desirable but are just delicious and are easy to prepare too.”
Working closely with suppliers and having a menu that can evolve with the seasons is an obvious starting point for businesses wanting to reduce their environmental impact, Fuller said.
“Seasonality and food’s carbon footprint should always be considered; using small, local producers and dealing with them directly to achieve the best possible ingredient; letting farmers and producers almost dictate what goes on the menu, based on what’s growing well during the seasons. Produce just tastes better when it’s eaten at the correct time, [plus it] needs less prep and is generally cheaper,” she said.
Working in this way means food costs are reduced or maintained, and it also engages chefs and breeds innovation in the kitchen.
Reducing waste is another sustainable practice that every food service business can work towards. Apart from portion control, Fuller said, the best way to minimise waste in the kitchen is to use as much of every ingredient as possible. It’s a fundamental part of the back of house operation across all Sam Price venues.
“All our venues are very conscious of reducing waste, being creative and enhancing the flavour profiles of our dishes. [At INDU] vegetable waste goes into stocks and pickles; vegetable skins are turned into edible soil; we pickle pumpkin skins and at Mejico we use 20kg of watermelon a day, so we pickle all the rind and use it in our menu. We use meat fats from rendering off to enhance the flavours of our curries and meat dishes, and we fry leaves from baby beetroot and baby carrots to use as garnishes or add crunch to salads.
“Kid Kyoto regenerates a lot too; we ferment fruits so we can hang onto the flavours from prior seasons. Summer peaches, for example, we use for an incredible Fermented Peach Custard dessert. We roast prawn shells and make prawn oil to dress dishes. Pork and fish off-cuts are turned into fish floss and pork floss for our rice dishes and garnishes, and shallot roots are burnt and go into our dashi.”
Pip Sumbak, Namotu Island
As chef at Namotu island, a football field sized island off the coast of Nadi, Fiji – widely known as one of the best, exclusive surf resorts in the world – Pip Sumbak caters for a maximum 30 guests per week, most of whom are very wealthy, well travelled and environmentally aware.
“The resort attracts guests who are educated and generally sensitive to the environment; they expect the island to be run [sustainably]. I think they’re now calling it ‘sustainable luxury’, which in the past was a bit of a contradiction. If the wealthy continue to favour sustainable tourism, Namotu and other venues would quickly lose their appeal if they chose to ignore environmental factors,” Sumbak said.
As such, Sumbak is working to improve the resort’s environmental credentials, partly by educating her team of chefs on how to work better and smarter in the kitchen, and also to reduce the island’s reliance on imported foods, in turn delivering a more authentic dining experience for guests.
“We are a tiny dot in the south pacific, surrounded by an incredible living eco-system. The resort has an obligation to embrace sustainable practices in all aspects of running the enterprise … Notable is the way in which we work with our island fishermen to utilise every catch. Namotu guests are fed only the fish we catch. There are times unfortunately when the fish aren’t biting so we keep a large stock of fish frozen in times of plenty. This just means we are strategic when a big catch comes in.
“There’s no waste; every part of the fish is utilised. Smaller fish are fried whole for snacks, and the bones are crushed and used as fertiliser on the island. Larger fish like Mahi Mahi, Yellowfin Tuna and Walu are also completely utilised. Their heads and frames are either smoked and used for dips or boiled for soups. Guts and gills are sealed in buckets ready to use as burley or bait for the next day’s fishing trip.
“Our smoker has really helped us experiment and utilise more parts of the fish too. Tuna Jerky and Smoked Fish Belly are amongst our biggest crowd pleasers,” she said.
And that’s not all. The island’s coconuts are used for their water, milk, cream and flesh, and the husks are used as smoking chips or are shaped into traditional kava bowls. All food scraps and vegetable waste is taken daily to the villages of the resort’s Fijian staff, enhancing the diet of their pigs and chickens, which also find their way onto the resort menu.
Growing up on a farm, Sumbak says she’s always been conscious of where her food comes from and the processes it went through to get to her plate. Not everyone has had the same upbringing, however, and she says there’s still a lot of work to be done, including in Australia, to ensure people realise the importance of doing their bit.
“We take so much for granted in a country like Australia, and waste has become part of our lifestyle. Working in countries such as Vietnam and Fiji brought home to me how well people can manage with so little. Food products are treated with such care here. Every part of the plant or protein plays a part in the sustainability of their lifestyles,” she said.
“Working in paradise surrounded by natural beauty has of course had an affect on me. I can see the increasing amounts of plastic washing up on the shores each year and the media’s focus on climate change has made me even more conscious of the changes we need to make to retain an environment like this one. All of this drives me to do what I can to [educate] the locals here on the best achievable sustainable practices.”