Parcs is not your usual Melbourne restaurant. Opening in April last year, the 20-seater on Little Collins is devoted to repurposing food waste in inventive new ways. Think oysters served with mango kombucha that’s been aged in beeswax – and that’s just the beginning.
Under the close guidance of head chef Dennis Yong, Parcs (“scrap” spelled backwards) commits to utilising food waste for a staggering 70 per cent of its menu – and both diners and fellow chefs have taken notice. “People have been really enjoying it,” says Yong. “We just have to lead through education. A lot of restaurants are doing it, but not at our scale. Hopefully we inspire people to do what we do. That’s the whole idea of it.”
That notion first came to Yong when he was working in Parcs’ sibling restaurant, Sunda, noticing the inevitable by-products from even the most sustainably sourced produce. “I’d be prepping something and I’d have all these scraps left over,” he says. “That’s when the idea started. When I felt ready, I just put everything in front of me and tried it.”
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He started by dabbling in fermentation, setting up his specialty business Furrmien to launch limited-edition products, host themed events and participate in high-concept collabs. That central practice has become a key element to Parcs, with every dish containing at least one fermented ingredient. Beyond aiding in the process of perseveration, it makes for surprise menu additions like fermented spring onion served alongside lard-grilled trout, or a stale-bread-made miso used in a house spin on the Italian dish cacio e pepe.
“Fermentation is one of the main techniques we use in the restaurant,” says Yong. “It’s a great way to solve food waste. You preserve the scraps and give them a second life. I always say it’s like raising a kid: you’ve got your jar and it changes all the time. It also reminds me to live life a bit slower.”
Other tricks of Parcs’ trade include using the neglected leaves from beetroots, making oil from discarded mango peels and adding potato peels to the house miso. Some of those basic ingredients are sourced from Sunda and Parcs’ other sibling restaurant, Aru – also owned by Adi Halim – while others come from in-house produce orders. The menu changes as needed, depending on what’s available. Certain dishes might stay on the menu for between two weeks and six months, or sometimes scraps are utilised for one-off specials on the menu.
The sustainability doesn’t stop at reducing food waste – it extends to every aspect of what Parcs orders and serves. Native animals like kangaroo and crocodile might appear on the menu alongside wild boar; while the staff consults the Goodfish app to make sure they’re only ordering sustainable seafood. You’ll also see familiar native ingredients like Geraldton wax deployed alongside novel spins on Chinese doughnuts and miso ice cream.
Even the cocktail list gets its part of the process, with group bar manager Kayla Saito creating drinks that use fermentation and scraps in some way. Case in point: Parcs’ Negroni uses vermouth that Saito makes from the restaurant’s oxidised wine, in tandem with wine-waste-derived 78 Degrees gin and a house tincture of Davidson plum. The wine list also spotlights an array of natural, biodynamic and minimal intervention drops.
By committing to fermentation and low-waste cooking in such a lighthearted way, Parcs paints an accessible portrait of the future of sustainable dining in Australia. It doesn’t have to be a chore to use food waste, nor do the results need to be boring. If anything, the challenge to use tricky ingredients only encourages more inspiration.
“It’s all a habit that needs to change,” says Yong. “It’s another level of cooking great food to be making food waste the main priority and incorporating that into your philosophy. If you choose certain produce, you have to think about how much waste it will produce.”
That said, Yong is the first to admit that Parcs still has some way left to go. The restaurant’s next goal is to make all of its condiments in-house – something the team is already working towards. On that front and others, the chef always sees room for improvement – and play.
“We’re not perfect,” he says. “It’s not zero waste. But we’re working on that every day.”
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.