This is the tenth year of our involvement in the National Restaurant Awards – judging the winner of the Sustainability Award, now sponsored by Estrella Damm. The PIG, Grain Store (RIP) and Silo are among the illustrious and eclectic winners from the last decade.
All of the past winners had a compelling sustainability story and the credentials to back it up. The PIG’s championing of local produce, much of it homegrown. Bruno Loubet’s Grain Store in London’s regenerated Kings Cross was a genuine plant pioneer, making vegetables the stars of the plate while still offering diners the chance to enjoy meat or fish too. Last year’s winner, Silo, has gained a deserved reputation for, among other things, saying a big fat ‘NO’ to food waste, showing chefs the world over that zero waste is no barrier to creating delicious dishes.
The bar has been set high. Who would be crowned winner in 2022? To assemble the shortlist we sought out restaurants that had introduced an impactful new initiative in the last 12 months. This included new openings – with sustainability well and truly built in. That included Chantelle Nicholson’s Apricity, Field by Fortnums and Kindle in Cardiff. Having selected these three, plus Where the Light Gets In, and The Free Company, a farm restaurant in Scotland, our expert assessor conducted an in-depth interview with the owner/chef of each restaurant to discover more about their new initiatives and dig deeper into their broader sustainability credentials.
The competition was exceptionally close and all five had both a compelling story and the creds to support it. There can only ever be one winner though and, for looking beyond the plate, and engaging its staff, customers, suppliers and the wider community in finding creative and innovative solutions to the problems in our food system, Where the Light Gets In pipped the others to the podium.
On top of running the restaurant, working on their own farm and rooftop growing space – The Landing – and opening a new bakery, Yellowhammer, the team at WTLGI have this year set up a new initiative, The Residencies.
Spanning the restaurant, bakery and Landing, the residencies are a series of events designed to spark discussion and debate about the relationships between food and the environment, as well as economic and social elements. Issues being addressed relate to food, agriculture and the environment and the events are designed to open up opportunities for collaboration between the local community, artists, farmers & producers.
At the centre of these residencies is the importance of minimising waste through utilising by-products from the restaurant kitchen and giving them a new life through the Landing, the bakery or other suppliers.
As an example, the market for sheep’s wool has struggled with prices falling dramatically over recent years, meaning it can cost farmers to produce wool rather than giving them an income stream. Rather than using British wool (which is in abundance), it is common practice that when wool is used for things such as building insulation, we ship in merino.
As part of their residencies WTLGI worked with their lamb producer to host a series of workshops where the wool from the sheep was spun into yarn, then turned into weaving wool and dyed using natural ingredients, including food waste from the restaurant.
WTLGI has also managed to use this wool to insulate the growing beds on the Landing over winter, building them a huge fleece blanket to protect the plants.
Here are some other examples of the ways they’re serving up Food Made Good:
Meat: Only buy whole carcase and use every last scrap
Fish: Direct from local day boats
Tea: Grown on The Landing
Staff welfare: Weekly yoga sessions, daily breakfast, three days off a week and seven weeks holiday
Plastic: No cling film and only use compostable sous-vide bags
Plates: Crafted locally using their own waste bones.
Chef Sam Buckley and his team really are leading as well as feeding and become the very deserving tenth winners of this award. We’re already excited about the search for the eleventh.