Chefs are cook­ing up ways to make our world liv­able for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions

Living a sus­tain­able life­style is not the fleet­ing trend most peo­ple as­sumed it to be. We do not need to look far to ver­ify this—the Philip­pines’ seem­ingly ir­repara­ble rice short­age is a con­stant in­di­ca­tor of this prob­lem. At the re­cent Madrid Fusión Manila, sus­tain­abil­ity was the theme that had lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional chefs, farm­ers, food man­u­fac­tur­ers, and epi­cures ral­ly­ing to­gether. At the expo, which show­cased thou­sands of lo­cal food prod­ucts from all over the coun­try, the fo­cus was on re­spon­si­bly farmed pro­duce us­ing mostly tra­di­tional meth­ods and or­ganic prac­tices.

The spot­light con­tin­ues to shine on heir­loom grains; world-class choco­lates and cheeses made with lo­cally grown ca­cao and milk from Bukid­non’s grass-fed cows; and pre­mium dried fish from small coastal com­mu­ni­ties.

All over the world, the move­ment is wide­spread and thriv­ing. Chefs and restau­ra­teurs un­der­stand that sus­tain­able prac­tices not only limit their car­bon foot­print but also pro­vide guests with the best pro­duce pos­si­ble. It is not only so­cially re­spon­si­ble, but also a very ba­sic so­lu­tion for busi­nesses to sur­vive for much longer.


In ris­ing Asian economies, the fo­cus is un­der­stand­ably on the num­bers. “Peo­ple in Korea are all about work. Work­ing hard,” Miche­lin-starred Korean chef Tony Yoo says. Func­tion­al­ity and ef­fi­ciency still very much trump en­vi­ron­men­tal con­scious­ness there. How­ever, Yoo feels that the

winds are shift­ing as the stan­dard of living rises. In his pioneering restau­rant Dooreyoo, wherein he fash­ioned a new Korean cui­sine, Yoo still be­lieves in look­ing to his grand­mother’s tra­di­tional recipes for guid­ance. “The old way is, for me, the per­fect way,” he says. This “way” is largely re­liant on fresh in­gre­di­ents and calls for Yoo to be fully aware of their ori­gin.


It’s the same rea­son why, it’s safe to as­sume, Mag­nus Ek thinks it’s more prac­ti­cal to grow his own gar­den at two Miche­lin-starred Oaxen Krog to sup­ply the veg­eta­bles and herbs he reg­u­larly needs. Af­ter all, his ver­sion of new Nordic cui­sine—as with all its vari­a­tions—de­mands the fresh­est pro­duce. “The dif­fer­ence of hav­ing my gar­den is that we can pull out a car­rot from the ground and cook it three hours later,” the soft-spo­ken Swede says. He prefers this old-fash­ioned ap­proach be­cause it al­lows him to have “a close re­la­tion­ship with the in­gre­di­ent.” He points out how this gen­er­a­tion al­most never encounters food out­side of a su­per­mar­ket or restau­rant. “We need to be re­minded that a cow is not just what’s in that vac­uum pack­ag­ing, but a real an­i­mal,” Ek stresses. While this may not be the sim­plest and most ef­fi­cient way to han­dle food, he es­pouses it be­cause it of­fers con­sis­tency and qual­ity con­trol.


For­tu­itously, the un­end­ing search for fresh in­gre­di­ents mostly re­sults in the adap­ta­tion of sus­tain­able prac­tices. In the case of Bali’s Restau­rant Lo­ca­vore, chefs Ray Adri­an­syah and Eelke Plas­mei­jer ad­mit that sus­tain­abil­ity is more a “by-prod­uct” of their choices and lim­i­ta­tions. Their de­ci­sion to buy lo­cal (“our in­gre­di­ents are 100 per­cent In­done­sian, if we can help it,” Plas­mei­jer says) is re­ally part of the restau­rant’s DNA, hence the moniker. The de­ci­sion to hire Ubud lo­cals is also more out of con­ve­nience than any­thing else. “Since ev­ery­thing is close to home,” Adri­an­syah says, “we main­tain a close con­nec­tion with farm­ers. We know which guy to con­tact for all our needs.” They have a “guy” who sup­plies their veg­eta­bles and a “guy” who brings in the catch of the day. When the restau­rant opened, they still had to im­port lamb. But now, there’s a lo­cal farmer that pro­vides it fresh.


While places like Bali pro­vide a lush, green en­vi­ron­ment for res­tau­rants that wish to be sus­tain­able, their city coun­ter­parts do not have it as easy. Sis­ters Ka­tia and Ta­tiana Levha of Parisian bistro Le Ser­van opine that tremen­dous ef­forts need to be made to prac­tice sus­tain­abil­ity in a highly ur­ban­ized area. “Paris is still so back­ward when it comes to waste man­age­ment,” Ka­tia can­didly ad­mits. Like all

For­tu­itously, the un­end­ing search for fresh in­gre­di­ents mostly re­sults in the adap­ta­tion of sus­tain­able prac­tices.

the other chefs, the sis­ters did not grow up living sus­tain­ably, hav­ing been self-pro­claimed “city girls” all their lives. “We do what we can,” she adds. While the pri­or­ity is still fla­vor and aes­thet­ics, the sis­ters get in­gre­di­ents fresh every day. “We only serve linecaught fish; even our wines are sus­tain­able. Our staff, ob­vi­ously, is also trained to be more aware of proper waste man­age­ment.”

It is some­thing also echoed by the Restau­rant Lo­ca­vore chefs who are avid re­cy­clers of bot­tles and bam­boo. Man­ag­ing waste is not only about re­cy­cling glass and plas­tics, it’s also about fight­ing food waste and mak­ing sure that al­most every part of the plant and an­i­mal is used and en­joyed.


In our small agri­cul­tural coun­try, sus­tain­able farm­ing is see­ing a promis­ing resur­gence. While the ini­tia­tive is there, Filipino chefs ad­mit that it needs a bit of a push. Iconic Filipino chef Gene Gon­za­lez shares that while there are nu­mer­ous op­tions, farm­ers them­selves are hav­ing trou­ble sus­tain­ing them. It frus­trates him “when our spe­cialty grow­ers or mak­ers quit on an in­gre­di­ent (I am) us­ing be­cause it is not com­mer­cially vi­able as there are no other tak­ers.”

While he solves this by grow­ing his own, an­other so­lu­tion is to pro­mote less pop­u­lar in­gre­di­ents that can be sub­sti­tutes for sea­sonal or im­ported prod­ucts. Gon­za­lez also en­cour­ages both farm­ers and chefs to think out­side the box. “We should pa­tron­ize small grow­ers and ar­ti­sanal prod­uct mak­ers, en­cour­age them to try other things, and pa­tron­ize prod­ucts that make them and your cook­ing unique.”

He ob­serves: “Years ago, no­body gave a hoot about our choco­late mak­ers. Decades ago no­body cared about Olive Puente­spina’s cheeses. Fif­teen years ago Gejo Jimenez of Mali­payon Farms was grow­ing veg­eta­bles on the empty lot ad­ja­cent to his house in their sub­di­vi­sion.” All it re­ally needs, it seems, is to cre­ate buzz around them, and to hope­fully spark some in­ter­est in a mar­ket that is cur­rently sus­cep­ti­ble to try­ing new things.

Sus­tain­abil­ity in the restau­rant in­dus­try, look­ing at it from all an­gles, is here to stay. While the “why” is un­ques­tion­able, the “how” is not al­ways that sim­ple. Changes are pos­si­ble but cer­tain ef­forts need to be ap­plied. With food short­age and cli­mate change, it’s a must. Ta­tiana Levha is spot on: “These days, es­pe­cially for us young peo­ple, it’s al­most em­bar­rass­ing not to prac­tice sus­tain­abil­ity.”

Sus­tain­abil­ity in the restau­rant in­dus­try, look­ing at it from all an­gles, is here to stay. While the “why” is un­ques­tion­able, the “how” is not al­ways that sim­ple.

(Op­po­site page, clock­wise)The chefs of Restau­rant Lo­ca­vore and the dish they pre­sented on the Madrid Fusión Manila stage; the Levha sis­ters (This page) Tony Yoo and his pork and veg­etable dish

(Above) Wide range of en­dan­gered pro­duce at the Ark of Taste booth, pre­sented by the De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture

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