In the United States and around the world, dining out is a common luxury. Getting to savor creative dishes, discovering new foods and enjoying the atmosphere of a restaurant all together make for a memorable time.
A downside to eating out: food waste. In the United States alone, about 11.4 million tons of food is wasted each year. That staggering number has opened the eyes of chefs and home cooks to practice zero-waste cooking.
This up-and-coming trend led three chefs in Helsinki, Finland to open up a restaurant dedicated to waste-free cooking. Restaurant Nolla, located in Helsinki’s Design District, combines Finnish cooking with the roots of the founders and chefs, Albert Franch Sunyer, Carlos Henriques, and Luka Balac.
Each dish created is carefully crafted to maximize every piece of each ingredient. Parts of an item that can’t be utilized are composted. Restaurant guests witness this process as the composter is located in the main dining area, showcasing what the restaurant is all about. Although utilized, the composter is not used as a garbage can. Before each item is tossed away, it is weighed and analyzed using a waste management software. Data is collected, what was thrown out, who threw it away and why, and is used to help improve the restaurants practices.
“Nolla is a restaurant without a trash bin. You cannot find any single use plastic here — no plastic packaging, no cling film, no vacuum bags, no foil,” says Sunyar, head chef of Restaurant Nolla, “Every detail from staff clothing and napkins to tableware has been thought of. Even the gift cards are made of compostable paper that has poppy seeds in them.”
Food is handled in a special way to ensure that Restaurant Nolla remains a waste-free establishment. From the way the food is delivered right down to how it’s stored, no part of the process was disregarded.
“We have created a box system for vegetables, fish and meat with local producers,” says Sunyar. “The boxes travel back and forth to prevent any packaging waste. We are very strict with this rule. If something comes in a non-reusable packaging, it is sent back to the supplier. No exceptions. This is the only way to make sure that people understand our beliefs and respect our practices.”
Food is fermented, pickled and dried to ensure ingredients are stored properly. The restaurant works with local producers who help them determine the best ingredients to use, based on what is growing during peak season.
“We use local and organic products,” says Sunyar. “The ingredients and their natural characteristics are the backbone of our tasting menus, and therefore, it is imperative that the quality of the produce is very high. These products tend to be more expensive in general, however, by using seasonal products and utilizing every part of them, our way of operating is very much cost effective.”
The chefs set out to show people that what they have accomplished is profitable and manageable. According to Sunyar, it’s not an easy process and creating the menu does take some time, but in the end he and the team stand by what they do, and they execute delicious and visibly beautiful dishes.
“It is a common misconception that waste-free practices mean cooking from products that expire soon or that making sustainable choices means that the quality deteriorates,” says Sunyar. “We do not cook from waste nor do we produce waste. We want to show that creative and great food can go hand in hand with sustainability.”
All photos and featured image courtesy of Nikola Tomevski.