Sustainability is a hot-potato issue. But that potato and other sources of sustainable food are set to be showcased on plates across the country as the One Planet Plate is launched.
Created by the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA), One Planet Plate will see thousands of restaurants serving up dishes that highlight how they are addressing problems in the food system, coinciding with Earth Hour on March 24.
Participating chefs including Raymond Blanc, Spring Restaurant’s Skye Gyngell and Tredwells’ Chantelle Nicholson, as well as high-street restaurants like Jamie’s Italian, Carluccio’s, Zizzi and Wahaca.
It’s something customers are looking for too, as surveys for SRA revealed low levels of satisfaction from diners seeking out ethical, sustainable and environmentally friendly meals.
Andrew Stephen, SRA’s chief executive, tells Food Spark the campaign is designed to help restaurants demonstrate their ethos in visible, tangible, tasteable form and help their customers use the power of their appetite wisely.
“Dishes showcase how chefs are addressing the problems in our food system from sourcing locally to choosing high-welfare meat to repurposing and reducing food waste,” he says.
“Or they could highlight sustainable seafood or ingredients with a low carbon footprint. The diversity of participants in this campaign – more than 1,000 sites across the UK are involved – demonstrates that the myriad ways of serving up a dish that does good as well as tastes good.”
Sustainable eating stats
- A survey for the SRA found 20% of people were satisfied with how ethical the food is on the menus of places they’ve eaten in recently
- Only 17% were happy with a meal’s impact on the environment
- Almost 90% of people said they thought restaurants should focus on creating a menu that helps them make sustainable choices
Stephen added that consumer research had revealed that as few as a fifth of diners express satisfaction with the environmental impact of the food on offer.
“Often this is a communication issue – restaurants not spelling out the sustainability credentials of the dishes. Diners don’t want a lecture with their meal, but they do appreciate clear messaging and respond positively. By shifting their vegetarian mezze platter to the top of the menu, north London favourite Moro saw sales of this already popular dish increase by a quarter,” he notes.
So what’s being dished up?
Sautéed mushrooms, stale bread and broccoli stems
A number of recipes are designed to eliminate waste, including prawn head crispies by sushi restaurant Moshi Moshi and Mediterranean kitchen Harissa’s sautéed oyster mushrooms, which are grown in coffee grounds.
Then there is the bread soup with vegetable trimmings from Spring that makes use of stale bread.
Other dishes are made with local ingredients, including the home-grown beetroot terrine and horseradish sorbet from two-Michelin-starred restaurant Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.
Chef Nicholas Balfe of Salon has created a sustainable alternative to smashed avocado, broccomole (broccoli guacamole using broccoli leaves and the trimmings), while Ottolenghi head chef David Bravo is serving up cured chalk-stream rainbow trout with pickled broccoli stems in Islington to highlight sustainable seafood.
Among the dishes rethinking the role of meat on the plate is Hawksmoor’s potted beef, which comes from grass-fed cattle that are allowed to grow naturally and lead a stress-free life
Chef James Golding at The Pig is serving a classic from the menu – pressed pig and walnuts – which uses pig head and ham hocks from their own pigs and free-range pannage pigs (released into forests to forage) from New Forest-based Wendy Maughan at Manor Farm in Cadnam.
Golding said that this represents his local produce ethos and is a great way to utilise under-used parts of the pig that always deliver flavour in a big way. The pickled walnuts are also grown locally and the plate is dressed with purple mustard frills that are nurtured on the grounds of The Pig.
After all, sustainability doesn’t necessarily mean ruling meat out of a meal.
“It can be possible to misinterpret the more veg, flexitarian shift as a vegetarian/vegan charter. It’s not,” says Stephen.
“What people want is more choice, and the smart operators are providing their customers with that more imaginative, tasty and well-thought-out alternatives. Others are offering smaller meat portions.”
As the consumer survey results demonstrate, faced with a full menu of dishes to choose from, it can be hard for even the most conscious diners to feel confident they’re making the right choice, even in the most ethical restaurant, according to the SRA. One Planet Plate is effectively the chef’s sustainable special – his or her personal recommendation.
The SRA is urging restaurants to feature these dishes on the menu for the long term. The consumer conscience isn’t going anywhere, so perhaps neither should these meals.