Tom, have you cooked with Refettorio Felix before?
This is my first time cooking for Refettorio Felix. I have been here before with Feedback, Tristram Stuart’s Food Waste charity, but this is my first time to do lunch here, which is exciting!
How have you found the experience so far?
I mean Nassim and Cleo have everything so under control, that you can just walk in. They’re really open to invite guest chefs to come up with their own dishes.
What are the easiest ways for a food lover to reduce food waste?
When visiting a local market, if you see some food that might be going to waste, then ask the store holder for it. Sometimes I’ll ask for beetroot leaves, which they cut off at the market quite frequently, or for some bruised apples or something. You can take that home and make a crumble with it. However, I think the message is more about how can we reduce the waste that we’re producing in our homes. The goal is to stay on top of it. Know what’s in your cupboards or in the back of your fridge and make sure the stuff with a shorter shelf life gets used up first.
Do you have any eco tips for buyers when food shopping?
One way is by shortening the food chain. Shop from farmers markets, or even your local market, to cut out the middle man. Sometimes that food can be more expensive than in the supermarket, but sometimes it isn’t. Through buying from a local producer, you’re cutting out all those different stages of the distribution and logistics. That food may have travelled around the world by plane and changed hands, gone to new Covent Garden Market and been picked up and taken to another shop and then the supermarket. At each link in that long food chain, roughly a third of that produce is getting lost. So, shortening that chain and buying from a local supplier or producer has a dramatic impact on reducing waste, whether it’s the literal waste of that food or the energy that’s gone into transporting it.
What changes need to be made in the restaurant industry?
It’s about designing waste out. If you’re writing a menu, and you come up with a recipe for the yolks, you make meringue because meringue just uses whites. Quite often, restaurants take their pick of an ingredient and then just cast the rest away. So, we need to change that perception, making chefs realise that that is waste, and challenging them to come up with use for it.
Can you talk a little bit about your eco-chef philosophy?
Root to fruit is a sustainability philosophy that I’ve devised to help tackle food waste and act more sustainably. Through the prism of saving food waste, you practice what I call complete consumption, eating all of your ingredients from root to fruit, whether it’s the skin or the leaves. It is another way of approaching food more holistically.
Why do you think the issue of food waste is so important?
It’s not just the fact that we have this dual issue of 1.3 billion tons of food waste each year, and 1 in 9 people going hungry. It’s the climate impact that is seen by that kind of excessive food production. We’re producing enough food to feed the world at least one and a half times over. That excessive production and use of resources are causing climate change and putting us in this dangerous situation. It’s imperative for everyone to start reducing their waste. At home, collectively, we can have a huge impact through reducing our waste, but when you take that to restaurants, then you’re starting to save thousands of meals a day.
What made you decide this was something you wanted to devote your time to?
To start with, sitting around the table every day with my parents and learning to cook, becoming aware of food, having an allotment of my own when I was 10, rearing goats, all these different experiences. being exposed to food throughout your life exposes you to the idea of thrift and cooking well. The moment when I decided to call myself ll an ‘eco-chef’ was when I was invited by Tristan Stewart to feed 200 people using food that would have otherwise been wasted. We converted London bridge into a kind of feast table and were donated incredible organic produce from box schemes, saved windfall apples from orchards, fish that would have otherwise been discarded back into the sea, and we created a feast for 200 people. It was the moment in my career that I realised that even as individuals we can make a difference.
Interview by Natasha Bunzl