Having worked in restaurants in the UK and around the world since the age of 16, chef Douglas McMaster has a passion for produce and the environment that is captivating. His restaurant, Silo, in Brighton aims to be Zero Waste; offering innovative, full of flavour dishes that celebrate produce without the food miles or over-processing. We sat down with Douglas to chat about how it is possible to create zero waste, his kitchen heroes, precision cooking and pirates!
What inspired you to come up with the idea for Silo?
There is no one moment that inspired Silo. A series of events, people, shared opinions and experiences have shaped the restaurant. From working in forward thinking restaurants such as St John to meeting eco artist and designer, Joost Bakker whose pop up restaurant, Greenhouse on Sydney Harbour, was implementing innovative practices to reduce waste. Zero waste is just common sense – it is good for the farmer, the environment and crucially it tastes better!
How does Silo achieve Zero Waste?
To achieve Zero Waste, all products that are delivered to us come in re-useable crates, food grade jerry cans, pails, urns or containers. All that isn’t consumed by our customers, or us, is fed into our aerobic digester (named Bertha!) which can generate up to 60kg of compost in just 24 hours. As our use for it is so minimal due to the way our menu is conceived, we offer its services to our neighbours, both residential and commercial, and that way we can share the benefits of waste reduction across our local community.
Our brewery, Old Tree, creates fermented drinks using foraged and intercepted plants, herbs, vegetables and fruit. We have our own flour mill which turns ancient varieties of wheat into flour the original way, opposing over-processed industrialised bread making techniques. We churn our own butter, make our own almond milk, roll our own oats and support a nose to tail ideology, meaning that, if an animal dies for food, we will maximise the whole beast, respectfully.
Our furniture and fittings are created from a desire to re-use. We choose up-cycling before recycling. Our furniture is made from materials that would otherwise have been wasted and crafted with innovation to serve function. We have plates formed from plastic bags, tables made from industrial floor tiles, work benches crafted from filing cabinet frames and yes, we use jam jars for glasses, but for us this is no gimmick, they are plentiful, multi-functional, hard-wearing and the not insubstantial energy that would have been used to recycle them is saved.
Tell us a little bit about your relationship with Miele?
I knew about Miele for many years but began working them in Australia with Joost. Through learning from people like Joost, I appreciate and understand that the product has to come first, and if the product is wicked then people will want to come and eat, drink and experience it and Miele allows for that quality. There is a precision and impeccable quality in all of its products that mean that when my chefs are cooking for 200 people on a Saturday afternoon I know that it is going to be good and that every dish will be of a very high standard.
How does the Miele Steam Combination Oven help you to achieve zero waste?
What I need is consistency and low temperature cooking offers this. If you are cooking a piece of fish, you can set the temperature to 50°C and know that it will not overcook. Miele Steam Ovens offer superior quality with precise temperature controls and therefore give me the consistency I need when cooking while using very little energy.
Your aim is to cut out the middleman – tell us about some of your local suppliers?
Laines organic farm in Cuckfield is our main supplier; they deliver over 100,000 vegetables in two runs every week. They are one of the longest certified organic farms in the UK and they work on a large scale. Correct scale being so important to the future of organic farming. It’s crucial we work in bulk as then it makes the direct trade feasible. Working directly also provides greater understanding of farming realities such as the natural supply chain – it’s this insight that inspires our menu.
Is there any advice you could give to our readers on how to reduce waste in their home kitchens?
Maximise resources to minimise waste is my words of wisdom, and of course waste is a failure of the imagination. What I’m trying to promote is more inquisition to those things one would typically throw away. Always think how to use the parts of the ingredients that typically get chopped away and most of all challenge yourself to try new things. Don’t be afraid to turn those carrot tops into a pesto, fry those potato skins to tumble through a salad, preserve all those juiced lemons and always make a broth out of the Sunday roast.
What are your top tips for shopping with Zero Waste in mind?
Ideally shop at farmers markets, produce is so much finer as the proud farmer who lovingly conceived these items presents it, your mind set will undoubtedly appreciate this produce more. If and when you go to the supermarket, always stay to the edges… It sounds strange but the centre is where all the processed food always resides. It is processed food that is heavily packaged and has been made in an energy intensive way. If you stick to the edges of the supermarket, you will have all the best fresh produce – butchers, fishmongers, raw produce and so on.
What inspires the look of your dishes?
I like minimalist looking food, I like those simple structures to represent the natural form of the produce or its terroir. I love explosive colour!
Is there a favourite seasonal dish you love to create and eat?
I love winter; it is when a chef is challenged to be most creative. Spring can be less expressive as it’s just beautiful fresh food on a plate with minimal intervention. In winter, you’re forced into thinking outside the box.
What ingredient couldn’t you live without?
Onions or seaweed…? I can’t choose which!
Who would be your dream dinner party guests?
Albert Camus, Salvador Dali and Albert Einstein
Do you have a favourite cook book?
The St John cookbook
How did it feel being included in Vogue’s 20 Rising Stars Under 30?
It’s really nice of course, it’s a great line at a dinner party!
We understand that some of your coffee and chocolate is delivered by Pirates? Tell us more …
There is a company called Fair Transport, a collective of foodies around the globe that have an alternative method to the unsustainable trading of today. They sail old school ships (like pirate ships) with only the wind as their energy. It’s not ‘the’ solution for the future but until green energy is dominant, it’s a beautiful alternative and a great story! Silo gets 100% of its chocolate from this trading system.
What are your favourite cooking techniques and why?
I like low temperature steam due to its precision and consistency. Not overcooking your beautiful portion of turbot is as ‘Zero Waste’ as it is delicious.
We understand that you use leftover milk from your coffee bar to make curds – how does this process work?
Working to our principle of ‘maximising resources’, it would be such a shame to waste precious milk. A barista always pours slightly too much milk when making fancy patterns in coffee. We like to collect the excess milk over the course of a day, then heat it to 85°C and squeeze in lemon juice. This splits the curds and whey. We then use the curds on our sandwiches and reduce the whey into a syrup.
Which appliance could you not live without and why?
Our Miele Induction Hobs are so precise and consistent that we create much less waste. We never accidentally boil our stocks or over-reduce our sauces. We know the hobs so well – they never let us down.
What is next for Silo?
Silo is ready for its next big step; unfortunately, I can’t say any more for now!
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