Have You Heard of Closed Loop Dining?

Brae dessert

A new philosophy is changing minds and meals.

A waitress scrapes uneaten food into the bin; straws are plunged into drinks decanted from plastic bottles; perfectly edible food-prep scraps are tossed. Restaurants, by their very nature, seem distinctly environmentally unfriendly. But a new generation of chefs is challenging this profligacy by using up, reusing and recycling everything, from vegie peel to cooking water. These chefs have skills and a social conscience – and they’re changing how we eat.

Throwaway society

According to OzHarvest, one-third of all food produced in the world is wasted – 1.3 billion tonnes of it – every year, and almost half of all fruit and vegetables.

Increasing awareness of the true cost of food means conspicuous consumption is slowly being replaced by conscious consumption: we want to know where our food came from, how it was made – and what happens after we’ve left the dining table.

Closing the loop

And what does happen after we’ve left the table? At restaurants around the country, chefs are practicing a closed-loop philosophy and finding that it makes sense, both environmentally and financially. What’s closed-loop, you ask? Think about it like this: once something enters the kitchen, the only way it’s getting out is on a plate. 

The term “closed loop” is seen more commonly in electronics than on a menu, but the idea is the same no matter where it’s applied. It’s a system in which some or all of its output is used as its input. It sounds tricky, right? What, for example, does one do with banana peel, or leftover coffee grounds? Well, sometimes they’re used in an ingenious new way and returned to the table. And when there’s really no further use for that pumpkin skin? It goes into a meal of another kind: compost.

Plant the seed

An Australian composting concept is proving so popular – and effective – that Rene Redzepi at Copenhagen’s famous Noma restaurant has adopted the system. The closed-loop concept is behind the Closed Loop machine, which turns food waste into compost in 24 hours. The machine reduces the volume of food waste by 90 per cent and creates a rich, nutrient-filled plant-food that is returned to the kitchen garden to nourish the plants, which are then harvested and used in the kitchen – and around it goes.

Sustainable restaurants working to close the loop

Beer made from day-old bread. Bread made from spent coffee grounds. These are just some of the ways restaurants are closing the loop. Read on for our top picks for closed-loop restaurants, bars and cafes.

Restaurant Lûmé

Lûmé owner Shane Quade isn’t about to waste anything, not even a humble carrot. Not when he knows exactly how much time and effort has gone into nurturing it from a tiny seed. “I’ve invested in that bloody carrot,” he writes in a blog post. “I have respect for it. Which means when it arrives in my kitchen, I have no choice but to be careful with how I use it and consider its value.” Quade is no longer in the kitchen at Lûmé, but in his stead is John Rivera, whose respect for ingredients is equally intense. Take, for example, the Banana Spring Roll petit four on his menu. “Instead of throwing away the banana skins, we infuse them into a sugar syrup which is then used to poach the banana. The candied skins are dehydrated and turned into powder with parsley and toasted banana leaf and then sprinkled over the dish,” he tells Travel Insider.

226 Coventry Street, South Melbourne, Victoria; (03) 9690 0185

Sixpenny

Chef Dan Puskas at Sixpenny uses up coffee grounds in what Sixpenny calls Yesterday’s Bread: stale bread and spent coffee are roasted, ground together, mixed with water and reintroduced to fresh dough before being baked. The result is a loaf of great depth of flavour, colour and texture. Cooking water is reduced and used to flavour butter. “In all aspects of the restaurant, we try our best to reduce waste and be sustainable,” says George Papaioannou, Sixpenny manager. “We work with small suppliers and producers that are employing the same principles of sustainability.

"All the water used in the bathrooms is recycled and filtered directly from our rainwater tank in the garden,” he adds.
83 Percival Road, Stanmore, New South Wales; (02) 9572 6666

Brae

Local, seasonal, sustainable: these words make up the Brae mantra. Food is grown onsite – not just vegetables and fruit but wheat and spelt grain for the sourdough, honey and eggs. What can’t be grown is sourced locally and thoughtfully. Take Dan Hunter’s Octopus, Carrots and Lovage: local Apollo Bay fisherman told the chef that octopus is a common by-catch of the sought-after crayfish and often thrown away. Now, Hunter ensures an octopus dish goes on the menu whenever crayfish is being served. Kitchen waste is composted and used on the garden; soft green waste goes to the chooks. Even the water at the table is harvested rainwater poured from recycled wine bottles. Brae produces a minimal amount of rubbish and is so successfully closing the loop that it was ranked second in 2018 in the World’s 50 Best Sustainable Restaurants awards. Staying over? The concept continues in novel ways – for example, the notepad in your bedroom is made from old menus.
4285 Cape Otway Road, Birregurra, Victoria; (03) 5236 2226

Brae

Three Blue Ducks

Sydney institution Three Blue Ducks has expanded in recent years, with iterations in Byron Bay and Brisbane in addition to Sydney’s Rosebery and the original Bronte café but what hasn’t changed is the focus on ethical and sustainable practices. Each of the four venues has a kitchen garden where a cornucopia of produce is grown – there’s pomegranates, grapes and bananas in addition to the more usual suspects like leafy greens and herbs. Bronte has its own beehive and the venue’s green waste is taken to a nearby farm for composting and at Rosebery a worm-farm is in the making. Spent coffee goes to local soap-maker Church Farm, where it’s turned into a fragrant Coffee Lemongrass Soap and a local ceramicist, who is using grounds to make resusable coffee cups for the café. What remains is used to brew kombucha or for a rub of slow-cooked brisket. And that’s just the coffee. Here, if it can be reused or recycled, it is – even the avocado pips and skins are handed over to a local artisan who uses them to make a natural green dye.

Three Blue Ducks

Various locations around New South Wales and Queensland

Nomad

In order to achieve the aim of sustainability, Nomad chooses its suppliers and producers carefully. Whole animals are broken down in the kitchen and each part of the animal is used for everything from stock to house-made charcuterie. Waste oil is recycled into biofuel and single-use plastic is banned from the kitchen. The VESTAL water system provides filtered and sparkling water to patrons after the restaurant made the decision to stop importing bottled water. And speaking of beverages, Nomad is using closed-loop practices to create a connection between the drinks and the food in a truly creative fashion. For example, whey from the house-made haloumi goes into The Whiskey Drink, a warming cocktail with Hellyers Road Pinot Noir Whiskey, honey, ginger and egg white; and pickle brine adds a tang to The Gibson Martini Drink.

Nomad

16 Foster Street, Surry Hills, New South Wales; (02) 9280 3395

Oakridge Estate

“Waste is a lack of imagination,” according to chef Matt Stone. Oakridge’s location informs much of its menu: Stone and co-executive chef Jo Barrett have a kitchen surrounded by the rich soil of the Yarra Valley. In this ground the pair grow much of what they serve; the rest is sourced locally. Whole animals are broken down in the kitchen and each part of the beast is used. An e-Water system allows the restaurant to sterilise its kitchen equipment, wash its produce and clean floors and tables without the use of chemicals. And a Closed Loop system takes whatever meagre scraps aren’t used in the kitchen and turns them into plant food. For Stone and Barrett, it’s all about keeping things local.

Oakridge

“We know the farmers who grow our wheat, we know our dairy farmer and the cows, we know where and how the food is grown and by who. We’re conscious of the effort and resources that have gone into growing it so we never waste and finding creative ways to use everything is a driver for both of us,” Barrett tells Qantas Travel Insider.

Take the aforementioned wheat: Barrett and Stone mill the wheat, feed the sourdough starter, mix the loaves, add the salt (and you’d better believe they know who harvested that salt), allow it to ferment and bake it. Each and every day. And what doesn’t get used is dried and fried and served as a cracker with cheese. Also made in-house? Croissants, butter, sausages and cheese. And they’re always looking for news ways to innovate: the latest idea is crushing used wine bottles to a fine sand and seeing if they can be used to make pottery.

864 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream, Victoria; (03) 9738 9900

Saint Peter

Chef Josh Niland takes the nose-to-tail concept and applies it to fish. Do fish have noses? It seems unlikely - let’s call it gill-to-fin. Whatever you call it, in practice it means that fish bits that have previously been destined for the bin are taking pride of place at the table. Think fish eye “chips” – they’re blended to a paste and fried, fish livers served on toast and fish-blood black pudding. It’s innovative – and it’s turned Niland’s 34-seat Paddington restaurant into a Sydney hotspot. Niland only uses sustainable Australian seafood which is then broken down at Niland’s Fish Butchery a couple of doors down. The approach has seen Saint Peter shortlisted for the World Restaurant Awards Ethical Thinking prize.

Saint Peter

362 Oxford Street, Paddington, New South Wales; (02) 8937 2530

Special mention: Loop Growers

Alice Star and Phillip Garozzo aren’t restaurateurs, but they’re responsible for what’s appearing on a lot of plates around Brisbane. The couple run Loop Growers, a bio-intensive market garden just outside of Brisbane producing an abundance of seasonal fruit and vegetables for a growing number of local households and businesses. Their raison d’etre, the couple says, is to turn waste into food. Growing chemical-free organic produce isn’t all they do, though: here, the food goes from farm to table – and back again. Garozzo and Star call kitchen waste “yields” and coffee grounds, food-prep scraps and eggs shells are sown right back into the ground from whence they came. They collect yields from a community of cafés, restaurants, bars and brewers – everything from spent yeast from beer to kale stalks and orange peel. “They are the power stations which generate both the yield and the community which feeds our farm,” Star and Garozzo tell Travel Insider in an email. “Each week we take away almost two tonnes of yields from the 15 venues in our Loop Collective.”

Draper, Queensland; Loop Growers

Top image: Brae

SEE ALSO: 10 Ways to be a More Conscious Traveller

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