You won’t find a bin in sight at the zero-waste, fine-dining restaurant Silo. Since its origins in 2011, chef Doug McMaster has built it up to become the world’s first zero-waste restaurant, now based in east London. We discuss sustainable supply chains, reclaiming materials, and creative ways to use leftover ingredients with the pioneering chef
For those that aren’t familiar with Silo, can you explain what the idea behind the restaurant is?
The concept of Silo is to achieve a closed loop system. We’ve cut out the middlemen so in the kitchen we get the ingredients in their natural form, directly from the source, with no plastic or single-use packaging. We use every part of every material that comes through the door and don’t throw anything away whether food or materials.
What was the motivation behind launching Silo restaurant as zero-waste?
I’ve always been aware of the environment. From working in so many restaurants, I realised that something needed to be done about the amount of food that was being wasted in the name of fine-dining.
I tested out my zero-waste concept as a pop-up restaurant called Wasted in Sydney and it was such a success that I moved back to the UK with the goal of opening a restaurant. That’s when I opened Silo in Brighton (the restaurant has since relocated above CRATE Brewery in Hackney Wick). The motivation behind it was to pioneer a fully sustainable restaurant that breeds creativity, serves good food and eliminates the chance for waste.
Since originally opening in Brighton in 2014, have you seen an uplift in interest in the concept?
The conversation about zero-waste has gone from strength to strength in the past couple of years. Silo in Brighton was really innovative, but in Hackney we’re reaching a larger audience, especially being in London. The conversation of sustainability and fighting waste is now in the public sphere and on most people’s radars so the opening of Silo in London will only build on this.
Are there any signature dishes? Or any personal favourites?
Pink fir potatoes, caramelised whey, red flesh apple is a really popular dish on the menu at the moment. A personal favourite of mine would be our braised Friesian dairy cow served with parsnip and peppercorn which is a really great dish from a usually unused cut of meat.
What does running a zero-waste operation look like?
In addition to reducing waste by cutting out the middleman, at Silo we also reclaim more challenging materials by adopting a ‘Nu Waste’ philosophy; Nu Waste being the idea that materials can be re-born.
A good example of this philosophy would be to turn veg scraps into treacle or even crushing wine bottles then melting into fine porcelain crockery. Every scrap becomes something new, something precious. We’re well known for being the restaurant without a bin, but really it’s become second nature.
We adopt a creative approach to cooking by using everything. Every scrap becomes something for example carrot tops make a delicious pesto, the best fermentations and pickles can be made using leftover veg and at silo we make an amazing dark treacle syrup using vegetable scraps.
What has been the biggest challenge?
There’s lots of challenges associated with running a zero-waste restaurant, but what we’ve found particularly difficult is finding suppliers who also have a zero-waste approach. Obviously, our suppliers need to have the same attitude as we do otherwise Silo as a zero-waste restaurant wouldn’t work.
It’s definitely been a case of persuading suppliers to adopt a zero-waste standpoint but now we have had that conversation we feel like we have made a positive impact beyond Silo. For example, instead of delivering to Silo in plastic cartons, our milk supplier now delivers in un-oxidised steel eight litres at a time. For ingredients that we haven’t been able to source in a sustainable and zero-waste way, we make ourselves; that’s why we make our butter in house.
Are you witnessing a change in the restaurant industry in general towards a zero-waste approach? Or does much more need to be done?
At Silo, we have been working hard at zero-waste for nearly a decade, hopefully inspiring others in the industry and beyond. Our goal is to demonstrate excellence without compromising a truly ethical supply chain. That said — there is so much, more can be done.
What’s next for Silo?
We’ve got an exciting summer lined up; I’m taking part in Bigfoot Festival in June where I’m co-hosting their Blackout Dinner, a sustainable vegetarian feast without using electricity with Matt Orlando of Copenhagen’s Amass and Chase Lovecky from Two Lights. Other than that, we’re just focusing on Silo, achieving the best restaurant we can, continuing the momentum to encourage others of the zero-waste blueprint.