Kensington cafe and multi-purpose space Cassette is among the growing number of venues with its sights set on zero waste. And, thanks to a mix of fermenting, preserving, repurposing and composting, it’s coming close to hitting that target.
The ambitious goal reflects the values of Assemble – the sustainable housing collective that launched the cafe last August – as well as mirroring the personal mission of chef Laura Boulton, the self-styled “Wandering Chef” who has worked in hospitality for years across various roles and venues.
“Working in catering really opened my eyes to the volume of waste that’s created,” says Boulton. “I find it sickening that we waste so much food as a nation. I thought that if I did something small, that would grow my knowledge and help grow other people’s knowledge.”
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In less than a year, Cassette has gone from making its own vegetable powder, with onion skins and other waste products, to making its own vinegar and fermentations. Now the kitchen is creating in-house brines and experimenting with reusing salt and coffee in baking. Surplus espresso shots are used to braise the bacon or to add an aromatic kick to the eggs. Its signature UK muffin features preserved lemon and pickled zucchini.
“We’re just trying to push the boundaries of our knowledge,” says Boulton. “It’s a great playground we’ve built here. Some of the best ideas come out of spectacular failures, and it’s just been nice to have that space to play.”
Community engagement and input is essential to Cassette. Even the cafe’s name came from the residents, who voted for it as a tribute to the site’s former life as specialty cassette manufacturer Dex Audio. Beyond a mere cafe, Cassette hosts many other welcoming community features.
“We wanted to create a space that’s fun and family-friendly but also beautiful,” says Boulton. “For me, it was about making the best food I could make, accessible to as many people as possible. So that’s about talking to local suppliers and finding local farmers and trying to identify as much as local produce as I could, with that root-to-stalk methodology in terms of waste. Just focusing on using the whole of the product and letting the food shine for what it is.”
And thanks to an on-site composting operation – which mostly takes care of waste items left over from diners’ plates – Cassette can make sure that everything comes back into the system of growing and reusing. Boulton has even been known to forage herbs and wild fruits to contribute to the cafe’s house-made soda syrups. “I’m a bit of a wombat like that,” she says. “I like to fossick around and find things on the weekend.”
Cassette’s wines are served via taps from kegs to cut back on glass waste, while all the beers come in cans. Assemble residents can bulk-buy coffee beans (which come in reusable stainless steel canisters) from the cafe. Boulton and staff are always trying to find new approaches, whether it’s making chilli sauces and jams or developing a coffee kombucha that will soon be made into a cocktail special. There are plans to extend into night-time hours from the end of May, so the latter will be perfect for that.
As Assemble plans to add two new residential buildings, Cassette continues to build a close relationship with its neighbours, many of whom come to observe the “fermentation station” – a collection of labelled vinegars and ferments displayed in and atop a hallway fridge.
“That’s a nice way to further their knowledge and share an interest,” says Boulton. “That’s the way I plan to work in the future, and I hope I can continue to hone those skills and show people that it is commercially viable. You just have to work hard and think about what you’re doing and make the most of what you’re getting in.”
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This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with BMW as part of The Next Guide. The Next Guide is a series dedicated to celebrating the people who are shaping our constantly changing culture in Australia, as well as investigating how sustainability will impact how we live in the future.