Silo: The inspirational story behind the UK’s first zero-waste restaurant

Silo in Brighton has pioneered zero waste dining in the UK – centred around using healthy ingredients in their entirety, being intuitive in their approach to creating meals, cutting out food miles, reusing wherever possible and eliminating waste.

Launched in 2014, Silo, housed in an industrial-style building in Brigton’s North Laine area, accommodates a restaurant, bakery, coffee house and brewery all in one. Silo’s founder, owner and head chef Douglas McMaster refers to the restaurant as “a pre-industrial food system that generates zero waste”.

Silo recycles all its waste. It has an in-house compost machine which processes all of its food scraps. Supplies are delivered in reusable containers. Ingredients are supplied directly from, mainly, local farmers and producers – cutting out all middlemen. Flour for the restaurant’s bread is milled on site. And alcohol is brewed in the basement. The mushrooms served up on the menu are even grown on coffee grounds on the premises.

Dining at Silo in Brighton is an ode to upcycling and reusing, showcasing just how creative one can be with it. Dishes are served on plates made from recycled plastic bags, and drinks – be it alcohol, kombucha, kefir or coffee – served in recycled jam jars. Furniture and fittings are upcycled. And no paper is used in the generating of receipts, as all receipts are emailed to customers instead, to save paper.

Douglas McMaster’s zero waste “seed” was initially planted while working as a chef at St John in London where the chef, Fergus Henderson, operated a “nose-to-tail” food system leaving none of the animal to waste.

The Silo creator has worked at some of the world’s most renowned restaurants including Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck. He also did a stint at René Redzepi’s restaurant, Noma, in Copenhagen which is a purveyor of wild foods, foraging and the ‘locavore’ movement.

What then followed was a meeting of and merging of two zero waste champions, as while on his working travels as a chef in Melbourne, Douglas McMaster met with an artist and eco-designer, Joost Bakker. At the time, Douglas McMaster had been working in a multi award-winning establishment in the city, touted to be in harmony with nature.

However he found the experience far from “in harmony with nature”. In an interview with Salt, Douglas McMaster said: “It had this whole vibe of ‘made by nature’, but it was the most unnatural restaurant known to man. The waste they created was just astronomical. They had no thought for the environment at all.”

Not far away from the restaurant Douglas McMaster was working in in Melbourne, an eco-friendly, pop-up restaurant, called Greenhouse, had just opened up. Greenhouse – a concept restaurant founded by the Dutch-born florist turned eco-designer, Joost Bakker – were using innovative techniques to reduce waste. Joost Bakker would farm all the produce using compost created from food waste.

The inevitable meeting of Joost Bakker, whom Douglas McMaster refers to as his “mentor” and “the biggest inspiration” in his life, saw the pair set up, within a year, “the world’s first zero waste restaurant” – Silo in Melbourne. Douglas McMaster returned to the UK a year later for family reasons. Thereafter the search for a UK set up started to take shape.

Three years later Silo continues to innovate and pull in punters from all walks of life, some of whom may not even be fully aware of zero waste and reusing when they first grace the restaurant yet come out of Silo having acquired simple yet small steps towards a zero waste lifestyle in their own life.

As far as food innovation goes, Silo has even created “the world’s most invasive ice cream” from the world’s most invasive weed, the Japanese Knotweed. Known to penetrate through concrete, Silo found a non-nuisance use for the weed, which is said to taste like rhubarb, by inventing a Knotweed Ripple Ice Cream.

While not everybody will be able get to savour the culinary delights of Silo, the impact of its zero waste concept is far reaching and likely to inspire zero waste advocates and chefs around the world.

Rosalind Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She is a writer specialising in sustainable life & style, music, entertainments and wellbeing. Rosalind also works as a spiritual life coach and intuitive advisor helping people to become who they truly are and manifest their heart & soul’s desires into their lives: www.rosalindmedea.com

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