‘Creativity is most important for cooking sustainably’

Pooja Pillai
Restaurant business, restaurant business in India, Sustainability Award, Sustainability Awards, Indian Express

Jonas Karlsson and Ruth Osborne

Experts from around the world have predicted that sustainability — in growing, procuring, cooking and eating food — will dominate changes in the restaurant business in the coming years, so much so, that even the Michelin Guide instituted the Sustainability Award last year.

The inaugural award, for 2020, was given to Spanish restaurant Aponiente, for using what is usually considered “marine waste”.

The question of how restaurants can be made more sustainable, however, was already being explored by restauranteurs and chefs in the Nordic countries for much of the last decade, considered the leaders in this field. One of them is Swedish chef Jonas Karlsson, who was in Delhi recently to cook a meal during the Swedish royal couple’s visit. In an interview, along with Ruth Osborne, who is co-owner of Paul Taylor Lanthandel, where he currently works, Karlsson explains how restaurants can think about making their businesses more environmentally sustainable, while also challenging their creativity.

Restaurant business, restaurant business in India, Sustainability Award, Sustainability Awards, Indian Express

Dishes served at Karlsson’s dinner in Delhi

How practical is it for restaurants to have a zero-waste approach?

Jonas Karlsson (JK): Having a zero-waste approach means using every part of a food product. So, for example, you don’t peel carrots. You just scrub them well and cook them. You also find ways to reuse and recycle by-products of cooking. For example, you can use coffee grounds to make crackers, which is what we did for this dinner.

Ruth Osborne (RO): What this approach is really about is flavour. We are super passionate about saving flavours that are otherwise thrown in the bin. We want to tell people that it is possible to utilise these parts, because you can still get so much out of them.

Would you say that your approach is a natural evolution from the New Nordic Cuisine (NNC), as created by Rene Redzepi (chef and owner of Noma, Copenhagen)?

RO: When Claus (Meyer, Danish chef and entrepreneur) and Rene wrote the New Nordic Manifesto, they were asking why no one was talking about Nordic cuisine. That was the beginning of the Nordic food explosion. Now, we’ve shifted into the upper gear. Yes, we do need to celebrate Nordic cuisine, but we also need to celebrate every part of the product, and consider what is local and sustainable.

What are the challenges of cooking with sustainability in mind?

JK: Creativity is the most important thing here. You need to have an open mind. If you have an interest in sustainability, you need to be open to ideas. Ultimately, fine dining is about taste: if it tastes good, then it’s good.

Do you see sustainability in restaurants becoming part of the global culture?

RO: There are a handful of restaurants around the world, like Douglas McMaster’s Silo in the UK or Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barn (near New York City), that are leaders in this. Scandinavia has embraced it because there are chefs pushing it here, and there’s no other region in the world that’s quite like it.

But yes, Scandinavia is affluent, so being sustainable is affordable here. We understand that in many parts of the world, there’s a barrier to being sustainable. Imported vegetables are cheaper, for example, and buying local, organic produce is unaffordable. But what we want to do is inspire the desire to be sustainable around the world.