A first has occurred in the restaurant world. Trying to ‘create a food system against the grain of all [commercial] food systems on the planet’, Silo in Brighton is the UK’s first zero-waste restaurant.
Perhaps a testament to our growing cultural, emotional and otherwise acceptance of sustainable and natural food, Silo, which has been open since October of this year, create their cleaning products through electrolysed reverse-osmosis water (filtered and electrically charged), mill their own flour, project their menus onto the restaurant walls, and manage their waste with the help of a big compost machine in the front named Bertha. And they also happen to make really thoughtful, great-tasting food.
Breakfast service in the stripped-back interior of zero-waste Silo
Silo’s quiet-but-mighty chef-patron Douglas McMaster is a bubbling fountain of sustainable theory. Cutting his teeth at famous nose-to-tail establishment St John Bread & Wine in London and at wild-food focused Scandinavian establishments including Noma in Copenhagen – Douglas has sustainability in his veins.
Silo’s chef-patron Douglas McMaster in the zero-waste restaurant’s open kitchen
But as he says, ‘zero waste is not easy.’ Starting an initial Silo in Melbourne in 2012 that he operated for a year before moving back to the UK to be with family, Douglas says that becoming zero waste in Australia was a far simpler task; ‘Australia has a tropical climate and an abundance of produce, and they are a modern, younger culture so the infrastructure is easier. Here, the way we do things has been slowly clad.’
Freshly baked cinnamon swirls made from Silo’s house-milled flour
Milling their own flour in Silo in Melbourne brought on Douglas’s real “ah-ha” moment, when his first batch of shortbread tasted of its primary ingredient – wheat – and he became awakened to “pure food”, or, as he puts it, ‘pre-industrial food – as nature intended it’.
Silo’s bespoke mill, a key feature of their zero-waste offering
There is a real transparency in the design and operation of Silo as a result of this concept, as Douglas explains, ‘what’s happened in the industrial revolution is there has been this veil crossed between what happens to food and the people eating the food; the result is that kids don’t know what veg are or how meat is slaughtered, people don’t know how half the things they eat are created.’
At Silo, the kitchen is open and the chefs often serve the food; explaining to customers what they have made and where it has come from.
Pastries on the pass in zero-waste restaurant Silo
Sourcing locally and seasonally, Silo’s naturally changing menu is made up of food trends and techniques that harbour the zero-waste function, like pickling, fermenting, nose-to-tail eating, foraging and intercepted waste.
At first averse to the idea of accepting intercepted waste into Silo – food that is being thrown away, often in vast quantities, but may not have been produced responsibly – Douglas came round to the idea when he saw his brewers make cider out of 2.6 tonnes of pears or wine out of 1.5 thousand mangoes, that would have otherwise been thrown in a landfill.
Perfectly crafted coffee at zero-waste restaurant Silo
These techniques obviously help to make Silo a zero-waste business, but also a profitable one – a priority for Silo to be taken seriously within the industry.
Silo and its zero-waste mantra and mission have been very well received in Brighton and in national press, but Douglas is adamant we won’t be seeing a Silo in London or elsewhere until this one is singing. But, luckily for Brighton, in the next year we might see a satellite Silo come to the fore; a cheese room, zero-carbon wine shop or bean-to-bar chocolate place, to complement Silo and vice versa…naturally.