by Sara Bavar
Ordinarily, the first thing that come to mind when hearing the word waste is unusable or worthless, but for Chef Douglas McMaster the word inspires creative innovation and tasty dishes. As the father of zero-waste and the man behind Silo restaurant, McMaster is transforming the restaurant industry through his simple vision: working with nature – waste included.
His labor of love began through a fated encounter with Dutch artist Joost Bakker’s zero-waste pop-up restaurant in 2011, leading to a partnership with Jooster to open the world’s first zero-waste restaurant in Melbourne, Australia. From there McMaster went on to open Silo London. The bin free restaurant is made entirely from ‘trash;’ every piece of furniture, dish, cookware, and fitting once lived its life as something completely different.
In addition to housing their own flour mill, the team at Silo churn their own butter and make their own oat milk. They use the entire animal, from nose to tail, ensuring that every bit of food is used respectfully and responsibly.
His book, Silo: The Zero Waste Blueprint, is “not a cookbook” but an intimate look into the mind of a genius who compassionately provides the food industry with a roadmap for a sustainable future. Once labeled a “stupid failure” because of his struggles with dyslexia and dyspraxia, McMaster has not only proven his naysayers wrong, but is single-handedly revolutionising our food systems.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the food industry to rethink their supply chain and sustainability, it is looking like the Silo way is the only way. McMaster himself teaches masterclasses about upcycling versus recycling on his Instagram page.
DLISH Magazine had the immense pleasure of speaking with Chef McMaster about the Silo philosophy, the beauty of zero-waste as well as a “unique feeling of emptiness”.
Silo Restaurant London
Sara Bavar: After winning the BBC Young Chef of the Year Award you said you remembered “this unique feeling of emptiness.” Would you say that this feeling was the trigger for your mission of turning food waste into creative dishes?
Douglas McMaster: I guess so yeah, however, there was a few years delay. It was a sense that what I was applying myself too - didn’t really have any purpose or value. Meeting the artist Joost Bakker (in Oz) was the moment that changed everything, he gave me that sense of purpose with his vision of Zero Waste.
SB: What were some of the challenges you faced when starting the zero-food waste movement? What are some of the challenges you face today?
DM: Being the first person to do anything means that there’s no guide, no roadmap, leaving you alone to make all your own mistakes; you’re forced to create a new roadmap. It sounds romantic but the reality is ‘change is hard’. Furthermore, translating what you’re doing commercially garners a lot of mixed opinions, this communication has proved to be very challenging.
Silo Restaurant London
SB: In many parts of the world, especially the US, the farms are heavily dependent on the big AGRA lobbies and, as a result, find it hard to establish direct relationships with end-users, like yourself. Do similar obstacles exist in the UK?
DM: Thankfully not! A Zero Waste restaurant in the U.S would be extremely challenging, however, there is always a way around every problem.
SB: At Silo you mill your own flour, brew your own beer, source your own plant food, and compost your waste. For most restaurants, it is not possible to do the same. What do you recommend they do in order to be more sustainable?
DM: Through the limitation of not having a bin - we are obliged to omit every single shred of Waste. Not everyone has to go ‘bin-less’ instead choose your battles, work with what’s possible with your team, your supply chain, and your business model. Choose to compost all your food or start weighing your waste, incentivizing the team to reduce as much as they can, create as much direct trade as possible, stop using cling film, go plastic-free... There is so much to choose from.
Silo: The Zero Waste Blueprint by Douglas McMaster
SB: In your book, Silo: The Zero Waste Blueprint, you propose a radical shift to our broken food system, essentially a return to a pre-industrial way of eating. Who do you think is more responsible to implement this ‘new’ system, chefs, and the food industry in general or consumers?
DM: Change needs to be from the top and the bottom, one will lead the other. If the people demand sustainability the government will have to answer. If the government incentivizes the change then people will act.
SB: It is predicted that a global food shortage may be one of the mid to long-term damages of COVID-19. Do you believe this to be the case? If so, how can we deal with it?
DM: This is not something I’m cognizant of. If that’s the case we should make the most of the resources we do have.
Beetroot Prune with Hemp Tofu and Red Flesh Apple
SB: How do you think COVID will change the food industry? How has it impacted your work?
DM: Unfortunately, I don’t think there will be as much of an impact on the food industry as people make out... Although I do look around and see far more innovation on the ground, it’s a bit lawless and unruly, like the Wild West. There is a far greater level of hygiene practiced every day, everywhere.
SB: Has the “unique feeling of emptiness” gone away?
SB: Any last words?
DM: Now is the time to support the restaurants that you believe in, every dinner is a vote for that venue to keep cooking.
Click here to learn more about zero-waste master Douglas McMaster