Your career has taken in everything from Michelin-starred restaurants in the UK, Europe and Australia to working at an artisan bakery. What’s your favourite thing to make?
I really enjoy the craft of making a product – creating a particular element on a plate from scratch. At the Restaurant, we make our own pasta every day and that’s such a therapeutic process. These things may appear straightforward, but the more you delve into the process of creating them they’re often vastly complicated to perfect.
How would you describe yourself as a chef?
I try to take inspiration from my previous jobs and my travels, taking dishes from around the world but putting my own stamp on it using British produce. For example, earlier this year we served steamed lamb buns created with English flour, English lamb and a miso-style glaze created from fermented fava beans. All the ingredients used were quintessentially British, but the dish had the nostalgia of something you’d order from a street van in Taiwan.
What sparked your passion for sustainability in the food industry?
In every restaurant I’ve worked in, for every accolade the restaurant received, it seemed the more and more waste there was. The difference in waste from a one-Michelin-star to a three-Michelin-star restaurant is astronomical. Being in that environment touched a nerve. I knew I couldn’t make a significant difference at the time, so I vowed that, when I became a Head Chef, I would do things differently. I think sustainable living is going to move from a trend to a necessity. In twenty years, kitchens won’t be able to work in the same way; you’ll have to save food and you’ll not be able to waste plastic.
How did you approach building a sustainable, plastic-free kitchen?
When it comes to plastic, I think in a lot of cases – such as with clingfilm and vacuum bags – the alternative is often just to not use them. However, a lot of chefs struggle to leave that way of doing things behind because you go through such strict training and in Michelin-starred restaurants everything is so precise. For example, I’ve worked at places where you’d cut meat into perfect cubes and dispose of the rest, so the yield is only around 40% of the product. We try and find ways to use that leftover product so that nothing goes to waste.
Similarly, a lot of chefs like to create a ballotine, which involves rolling meat in layers and layers of clingfilm so that when you cut it you end up with a perfect cylinder on your plate. It’s not something I can replicate without the use of clingfilm, so instead we embrace different shapes. It’s not worth the plastic.
What’s your favourite creation to come out of this zero-waste philosophy?
Bread waste was a big concern at the beginning; we don’t serve the ends because many people don’t eat them, so we had a massive build-up. We decided to get creative, using it to make sourdough crackers for the cheese course, for example, or to create a chocolate base for a dessert. The sourdough breadcrumbs give a lovely different flavour. Another favourite creation would be the macarons we made from leftover puff pastry trim. It means we can avoid using almonds and I think the flavour is superior to standard macarons.
What would be your top tip for anyone looking to make their kitchen more sustainable?
Make sure you have Tupperware! Stock up on tubs with lids, whether they’re made of non-single-use plastic, glass or metal. Rather than putting leftovers into bowls and covering them with clingfilm, invest in proper containers and use them.
What are you proudest of in your work at The Conduit?
Professional kitchens are often challenging places to work, with a lot of shouting and even bullying. This may lead to a high success rate initially, but in the long term you’ll have an unsustainable and unstable workforce. I really try not to have that in my kitchen; instead we’ve worked on building a friendly and welcoming environment. Mental health is a real priority for me, so I try to always have my doors open and be a support for my team.