Updated: May 14
Douglas McMaster opened Silo, the world’s first zero waste restaurant in 2014, wrote the Zero Waste Blue Print and has launched the Zero Waste Cooking School after the pandemic hit last year.
By special contributor Elodie Levrel
Photo Courtesy of Douglas McMaster
"Sustainability is a system in which you regenerate what you've taken"
Douglas McMaster won a BBC competition at the age of 21 and was named Great Britain’s best young chef. In 2010, he opened up a zero-waste pop-up cafe in Sydney, Australia and started his first zero-waste restaurant in Melbourne 2 years later. After returning to his home country, at 26, he founded Silo in Brighton in 2014, now relocated in London. He’s also the author of The Zero Waste Blue Print - A Food System for the Future, giving an insight into the unique mind of the Chef and guidelines to dramatically reducing waste and creating a closed loop system.
Today he tells us more about his most recent project: The Zero Waste Cooking School and what his vision of a sustainable food system and the changes it requires.
Welcome Douglas to Chefs for Impact!
By Douglas McMaster as told to Chefs for Impact
As this crisis calls for reflection, do you think this is an opportunity for Chefs to educate their consumers even more?
"I don’t think Chefs are the people to tell the customers anything. The medium of a restaurant is a place of enjoyment, a place where people come and spend money that they worked hard for, to enjoy and have this experience.
Education is a different medium. I tell myself and my staff that customers are here to have a good time and if they ask what we are doing or why we are doing it, then of course we are happy to tell them. I’m cautious not to impede the guest experience. Maybe like 60 % of our customers want to know about the zero waste, and what we do in that respect, but just not there on that night at the restaurant. That’s one of the main reasons I've created the cooking school and the book, as media for education. There’s a different time and a place for teaching."
You’re obviously the champion of zero waste gastronomy, but as you are reopening Silo*, is there anything else you would like to do in order to have an even greater impact?
"Yes definitely! At Silo, 85-90 % of the materials (most of it being food) that come in are very effectively processed into things that end up into the customers and staff’s belly (most restaurants are around 50%). That’s the part we’ve got good at. The last 10-15% is more challenging. 5% is recycled. Recycling is a part of the zero waste community and culture but I see it as a bit of a problem as the system at large is industrial and intensive. My personal mission is to recycle nothing, to see nothing go to the landfill.
In a perfect zero waste world, everything would be reusable in an endless cycle. Of course, that’s not the case, so we have to make peace with single-use and it’s then about pivoting and limiting them as much as possible and eventually upcycling them. The giant leap for zero waste would be to not recycle anything. That’s next level !
The 2 predominant materials that we are recycling at Silo are the glass and the cardboard. In Brighton, we would shred and compost the cardboard in our own compost system, but we don’t have a solution in London for that yet, so we recycle it. We used to have a machine that crushed the wine bottles into a very fine sand that we would use to create plates and other pottery. We’ll resume that upcycling glass system soon."
*Silo is reopening on May 19th, 2021 in London (UK)
Your ZeroWaste Blueprint is a great comprehensive guide to zero waste restaurants, is there one tip you give to a Chef/restaurant who wants to start having a more sustainable approach?
"There are lots of options to choose from! The first thing to do would be composting all your food waste and it is pretty easy as there are lots of initiatives in many places around the world. It’s very accessible! The second one would be to ban single use plastic. So no more cling film ! That’s a massive step. Thirdly, make a list of all your suppliers and work out how many are farmers, how many are wholesalers and try to cut the wholesalers. Get your fresh produce from local farmers, it may be stressful but the rewards are great in a virtuous and fulfilling way. The way that you cook will be far more intelligible, you’ll be more creative!"
What’s your definition of sustainability?
"It’s essentially harmony ; everything on earth is balanced. Sustainability is about doing everything in our power to allow things to stay in balance. If we take 100 things from the Planet, we have to add 100 things back to the Planet, and ideally these things should have the same value or more than the ones we took. Industrialism doesn’t do that, it just takes and doesn’t give back. Sustainability is a system in which you regenerate what you’ve taken."
What’s your dream for the future ? What impact do you think you can have further?
"It’s already happening! Having this conversation with you, meeting people that feel that reading my book or reading information about zero waste has given them a greater sense of purpose. Also when I see my family - the people that work or used to work for Silo - growing into their own families with the same values and principles, that’s beautiful. People ask “what can I do”? There is so much wrong in this world, there is so much to do, just pick a thin, everyone can do something. I’m passionate about system change, instead of fixing problems, let’s solve problems!"
Learn more: https://silolondon.com/
IG : @mcmasterchef
Restaurant Silo - IG: @silolondon
Book : SILO - The Zero Waste Blue Print
Zero Waste Cooking School - IG : @zerowastecookingschool