Repurposing Food, Or You Know… Everything

Repurposing Food, Or You Know… Everything

azurmendi restaurant

Think of the moment you are standing by the garbage can, holding a perfectly good – but a little crusty- chunk of bread or some expired products while having a sizzling feeling of guilt. Now take that amount of feeling and adapt it into a scenario where a chef of some hip restaurant has to decide whether to use the left over bread or to just be done with it! And this is just a scenario where we are talking about edible things. But what about coffee grounds left in cups, some tomato skin or just water used in boiling vegetables?

Now, the thing about sustainable restaurants depends on how much would you like to sustain: Do you want to brag about your few, upcycled furniture pieces thrown into your dining area? Do you want to use recycled materials for your take-out cups or containers? Or do you want to design dishes with seasonal and local vegetables, repurpose every possible material from eggshells to bread crumbs and do everything you can to reduce your and your guests’ carbon footprint?

No matter how big their scale is, sustainability is a globally growing trend among fine dining restaurants. Not only they focus on providing their guests with the most indulging gastronomical experience, chefs now also worry about going more green, local, and cooking in the most sustainable way possible. Whether to get that Sustainable Restaurant Award or not, there is certainly a shift towards the new trend.

Who said stars can’t be down to earth?
The three-Michelin-starred Saint Tropez restaurant La Vague d’Or, is the proof you can go glam while adapting to the farming culture, to present the most considerate and organic menu. We do not know if it’s the Provence culture that makes this culinary mecca a sustainable one, but chef Donckele sure knows how to take action in harmony with the local farmers in order to build an environmentally respectful fine dining experience. Spending the off-season growing ingredients for his upcoming menu, Donckele offers three different tasting menus, one of which is called “The walk in the gardens” and contains five tasty vegetarian dishes. Awarded World’s Best Chef (2019) Donckele takes his power from nature or to be more specific, from his garden. From the restaurant’s eyeful Instagram page, the must-try red scorpion fish:

red scorpion fish
Red Scorpion Fish
Chef Arnaud Donckele
Chef Arnaud Donckele with His Greens
Credit: Anthony Lanneretonne

Some take it very seriously…
Denmark’s Amass restaurant has the strongest mindset amongst its green rivals: “To serve delicious food in an exciting atmosphere while being responsible along the way”. The restaurant works with Copenhagen University and San Francisco-based ZeroFoodprint in order to reduce gas emissions and carbon footprint. These collaborations result in 75% decrease of rubbish. Amass also owes this percentage to owner and chef Matt Orlando’s imagination I guess: Ice cream made out of stale bread? A delicious miso made of coffee grains that were left in cups, expected to be washed away? Waste water that ends up in the garden at the end of the night? Who would have imagined! The sentence ends in exclamation as in No one! All parts of ingredients are repurposed into crisps, misos or seasonings. The crucial point of view here is that, chef Orlando sees all these repurposed ingredients as wasted food, but not left overs.

Spent grain, rhubarb ice cream.
Spent Grain, Rhubarb Ice Cream
Credit: Chris Tonnesen
Sea snails, mushrooms, pickled strawberries seasoned with fennel seeds.
Sea Snails, Mushrooms, Pickled Strawberries Seasoned with Fennel Seeds
Credit: Chris Tonnesen
Matt Orlando
Matt Orlando Taking Care of the Plants
Credit: Mikkel Heriba

All of these, point to the gorgeous garden that actually sums Amass’ vision: Berries, herbs, flowers, vegetables… With 80 different kinds of plants, the garden itself is enough to build a whole menu. And the restaurant also takes pride of the fact that they are not selfish about the garden: They welcome farmers, chefs or basically everyone to learn from their sustainable agriculture initiatives. When everyone gets tired, they all enjoy some crispy chicken and a bottle of wine between the planter boxes. This actually became a widely known event that is not just attended by the locals anymore.

And the winner is…
Undoubtedly the Azurmendi restaurant, awarded the Most Sustainable Restaurant according to The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, while getting the third Michelin star’s glitter, welcomes the guests proudly in it’s bioclimatic building. Azurmendi Group is already known for environmental actions, however, the building in the Gorka Izaguirre Winery, takes it to a whole new level. Again collaborating with local universities, Azurmendi contributes to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the United Nations and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. These goals include efforts to end poverty, encourage a healthy lifestyle, promote sanitation, reduce water use and many more thoughtful acts. The 2010 building, constructed of local and recycled materials and cutting-edge technology of renewable energy, makes Azurmendi one of the most sustainable and unique buildings of modern architecture. To even say, the restaurant has it’s own ecosystem.

The futuristic building is not easy to step into: Futuristic, meaning that you have to make reservations two months in advance and pay 100 euros, also in advance. However, it is do-able for a special occasion as the dining becomes a whole day experience. The guests start with a nice picnic at the garden entrance where they enjoy a piece of vegetable cake alongside the amazing wine from the winery. Of course, a visit to the kitchen is allowed and followed by a visit to the greenhouse where the local drink Morokil is served. The tour continues with a few more stops and it is not easy to say you are hungry when you arrive at the table.

Roasted and peeled lobster with juice, coffee butter, and purple onion.
Roasted and Peeled Lobster with Juice, Coffee Butter, and Purple Onion
Credit: Azurmendi Restaurant

It is however, totally understandable to have cold feet about making a 100 euros worth commitment in order to dine in a Spanish sustainable restaurant. At the end of the day, culinary sustainability is not a permanent purchase for the guests: You can wear a sustainable cotton sweater for a few years but a dinner is just a few hours experience.

These spots are all luxury, haute-cuisine examples that aim for sustainable fine dining. But, the power to sustain the green initiative is not only held by these niche spots. Even the use of glass instead of plastic, or composting the left overs is a step.

At this point, the restaurants should be the ones taking the responsibility in their conscientiousness: Turning the concept of sustainability into an expensive post of Instagram or achieving great success while going green themselves and encouraging others? A one-time dinner at a sustainable restaurant is not quite sustainable for the culinary enthusiasts. But the thought of serving the earth, makes this kind of sustainability more of an act than a trend. Because at the end, it should be all about that feeling of garbage can guilt.

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