Chef Douglas McMaster and his zero-waste restaurant SILO in Brighton, UK: “The future lies in the past”
After leaving school at 16, he spent ten years honing his skills as a chef at Michelin-starred restaurants around the world, including “St. JOHN” in London under Fergus Henderson, Heston Blumenthal’s “The Fat Duck”, “Norma” in Copenhagen and “Quay” in Sydney.
At Melbourne’s “Greenhouse” he met Dutch designer and artist Joost Bakker, who had already spent a long time cultivating his own home-grown crops.
Together they launched a time-limited experiment, the Silo concept: a café and restaurant forming a closed ecosystem, one that functions without generating waste and where ingredients are used in the same way that they were cultivated and respected in centuries gone by.
Back in his home town of Brighton, the chef McMaster found an empty restaurant unit. The hall seemed to him to be the ideal place to start his own restaurant.
“Back then I was naïve and broke, but knew it was the right thing to do.” With the help of £40,000 raised through a crowdfunding campaign, he was able to open Silo in 2014; the first zero-waste restaurant in the United Kingdom.
The basic principles underpinning Silo
– ZERO waste
– respect nature and its ingredients
– let nature decide what to cook when
– only food that is available naturally will reach the kitchen
– direct cooperation with producers
– strictly seasonal produce
– cut out the middleman entirely
His idea: He adjusts himself and his food to naturally occurring cycles. This is something people practised for centuries, but which has largely been lost to us as a result of industrialisation, or worse still, it no longer seems necessary. He describes this quite simply as a “pre-industrial food system”.
In cases where leftover food is unavoidable, a compressor named Bertha is – quite literally – at the heart of implementing the zero-waste concept: Bertha is positioned in the middle of the restaurant. “We try to use 100% of the products. If very little food has been poured inside Bertha the compressor by the end of the day, then that’s a sign of successful utilisation.” With around 50 seats in his restaurant, in this way he generates only around 3 kg of waste each day. The waste food which does make it into the compressor is turned into compost, which might for example be used as a crust or for smoking vegetables.
His career as a chef opened his eyes even wider to the grotesque levels of food waste. Food waste costs the United Kingdom alone an incredible 7 billion euros each year.
“Waste is a human thing, we’ve thrown it into this world,” explains McMaster. The chef continues: “We only select ingredients and food that respect the natural order and manage without unnecessary processing and packaging steps.”
All packaging and containers must be reusable to be allowed inside Silo. The leftover milk from latte macchiatos forms the basis of the restaurant’s homemade cream cheese and quark. Flour only comes from old varieties of wheat, and is always freshly ground as needed.
And what about coffee and cocoa? They usually require a long, fuel-guzzling journey to get here. “If you transport it with sailing ships, then you still have the distance, but it protects the environment,” explains Chef McMaster.
Although only using seasonal produce might sound good, the restrictions this entails can be tough. But for chef Douglas McMaster, this is the very aspect that makes working as an innovative and resource-efficient chef both challenging and enjoyable.
When it comes to meat, too, chef Douglas McMaster searches for sensible solutions. The focus is by no means on meat dishes, but nor are they excluded either. And if a meat dish is offered, this needn’t mean serving up giant lumps of flesh. The animals are sourced regionally, and many of them are game – due to excessive population levels, game has in fact become a veritable plague in many parts of England, which in turn is jeopardising biodiversity.
A selection of the ingredients and dishes McMaster offers at Silo:
Black garlic: has a sweet taste similar to that of sticky balsamic, and a texture like toffee.
Silo Dashi: with locally sourced seaweed, which is dried or roasted and then reduced to a broth.
Fresh figs and rolled oats
Homemade sourdough bread: spends days doing very little. It’s nice to stop what you’re doing, watch, contemplate and enjoy that special moment.
What happens when meat becomes a side to accompany the vegetables?
Goat’s cheese from Provence, wrapped in vine leaves, grilled over charcoal.
Sandwiches: Silo is passionate about sandwiches. First, the flour is ground and the sourdough left to ferment for two days. The bread is accompanied by leftover vegetables, which are pickled and preserved in advance. Milk is turned into fresh cheese… so everything is made in-house.
Tomatoes: It’s astonishing how flavoursome they can be when bathed in sea salt for 2-3 days.
Blood sausage: Some 115 million litres of blood are processed each year in the US alone. Most of it is turned into blood meal and used to feed young piglets. When meat’s on the menu, it’s possible to offer blood sausage instead – before pigs are fed to other pigs.
Knotweed: Japanese knotweed is delicious and versatile. It was introduced into the United Kingdom from Japan in the early nineteenth century. It’s not too popular nowadays and tends to annoy gardeners. Not many people know that it is great to eat and tastes like rhubarb. Raw, roasted, pickled, fermented, and even made into jam.
And here are a few more shots: