The Greenhouse is clad in materials such as plywood and recycled plastic. Straw-bales in the walls and ceilings supply the building’s insulation. Vertical gardens spill from the walls, and a rooftop garden produces ingredients for the kitchen and bar.
The Perth restaurant represents a new breed of hospitality operator, for which sustainability is not just a side concern—it’s the concern.
The Raw Kitchen in Fremantle has a similar philosophy, with every aspect of the business, from design to fit-out to menu, “evaluated for its greater ecological impact.”
In its restaurant, drinks are served with reusable stainless steel straws, take-away food comes in biodegradable packaging and the menu is designed to reduce food miles. It offers plant-based cuisine because it, “Produces the greatest and most immediate impact on carbon emissions, rates of global water consumption and pollution, land degradation and more,” the venue says.
The Raw Kitchen’s end goal is to run the space on solar and renewable energy, and supply itself with produce from its own farming operation.
This zealous commitment to sustainability and zero-waste has become a priority for some of the world’s most famous restaurateurs, many of whom use a system created in Australia to achieve it. NOMA, René Redzepi's Copenhagen institution, and D.O.M in Brazil, both considered among the world’s best restaurants, use the Australian-designed Closed Loop machine. The system converts food waste – from preparation scraps to plate scrapings – into concentrated compost. Casual eateries are also upping their sustainability investment. Chicago’s Sandwich Me In runs on sustainable energy and its food scraps and spent frying oil are repurposed.
In Australia, we have our own sustainability leaders, including Melbourne Italian institution Cecconi’s, who have invested in a Closed Loop system. “Since 2010, my partner and I have collected all the green organic waste and composted this at our family farm on the Victorian Surf Coast near Lorne,” says Maria Bortolotto, owner of. “To introduce the Closed Loop was the next progression.”
Bortolotto adds that all the lights at her Flinders Lane restaurant were converted to more environmentally-friendly LEDs, and in addition to minimising and recycling packaging, the restaurant has partnered with soil scientists at the University of Melbourne to ensure it optimises its use of the compost produced by the Closed Loop machine.
Canberra’s Močan & Green Grout is one of many cafes sourcing produce from local, sustainable farmers and growing herbs for its cooking in a planter at its front door. Its compostable kitchen waste is used at the local community garden. Now-closed Brothl, in Melbourne, used bones left over from restaurants like Rockpool to make its menu hero, broth.
At Shaun Quade and John Paul Fiechtner’s new Melbourne restaurant Lûmé, half the space will be taken up by a working garden, providing herbs and greens for an 18-course degustation menu. They’ve also enlisted a not-for-profit gardening organisation, Good Garden, to tend a plot that will grow all the vegetables for the restaurant. The pair are proponents of nose-to-tail cooking, which reduces wastage by using an entire animal and vegetable.
“Our vegetable scraps will be turned into juices or a vinaigrette,” Fiechtner says. “Our animal waste will go into sauces,” or sent to the pair’s Mon Amour XO eatery, which sells charcuterie.
“When you talk about sustainability it’s also about sustainability of a restaurant. It goes back to maximising what you’re paying for. It’s common sense cooking,” Fiechtner says. “We know the guy growing our vegetables and how much work he puts in—to cut off half a carrot and throw it in the bin … ” he shakes his head.
Many restaurateurs are growing their own produce, or using local as much as possible. Sixpenny in Sydney grows much of what they use at a garden plot in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. An urban garden called Pop-Up Patch, which occupies the site of a former car park near Federation Square in the Melbourne CBD, provides fresh herbs and edible flowers for city restaurants, including Press Club. Bee One Third in Brisbane and Melbourne City Rooftop Honey cultivate their own nectar, providing a hyper-local, premium quality product for high-end restaurants and nearby gourmet grocers.
Restaurateur and chef Jock Zonfrillo, whose Adelaide restaurants Orana and ADL specialise in using native Australian ingredients, wanted to install his own Closed Loop system but does not have the space.
“We have nowhere to put it,” he says. Instead, his team go to great lengths to separate waste and rubbish for garbage, recycling and compost.
“The issue of zero waste—there’s a lot of lip service given to it and nice conversations, but then when push comes to shove, you ask for commitment and there are not many people who care,” Zonfrillo says. He is frustrated his landlord won’t invest in a Closed Loop system that could service several hospitality tenants.
“In the city we are space poor. Sustainability and recycling is hugely important not only because of the ethos of the restaurant and myself, but also because of space restrictions and about how much waste we can have,” Zonfrillo explains.
Zonfrillo is renowned for his use of Australian native ingredients, and has spent significant time with Indigenous communities to learn what the land has to offer. He estimates there are about 16 native ingredients on the Orana menu, in addition to roughly 20 wild ingredients not indigenous to Australia but which threaten native species. Orana uses the stems and bulbs of Three Cornered Garlic, for example, which grows in fields and gardens all over Adelaide at the expense of indigenous plant life.
“All the other native species around it suffer because they suck up all the water and nutrients. It’s incredibly invasive,” Zonfrillo explains.
He also works closely with his meat supplier, Richard Gunner, to take meat off his hands that, for whatever reason, isn’t selling that week.
While there is a growing community of chefs and operators in Australia that is uncompromising in its devotion to sustainable practices, one of the biggest hurdles to implementing these processes is the customer.
“When we first started ADL, we were serving all the food on cardboard—100 per cent recyclable. The used trays would go away to Visy, we’d get them back recycled. We weren’t washing plates through the dishwasher,” Zonfrillo says. “Our customers didn’t get it. They asked, why must I may $15 for something on cardboard? We now use plates or the business wouldn’t have survived.”
“It takes a lot of time or money to try and changes people’s perceptions,” he adds. “It’s very difficult.”