Interview with an innovator – Chef Simon Rogan: Embracing zero waste

November 15, 2018
5 min read

Simon Rogan is a British chef who has gained two Michelin stars at his flagship Cumbrian restaurant, L’Enclume, where he farms and forages all kinds of unusual ingredients. He shares his philosophy centred on farm-to-fork eating at ‘Chef Simon Rogan in Conversation – Fortnum & Mason in London’, trying to answer the challenging question “What can be done in the restaurant industry to make everyone follow your sustainability ethos?” Here are the most interesting findings, corroborated with Mintel research on consumers’ eating out preferences, together with recommendations for the wider foodservice sector.

Credits: Simon Rogan

Hyper-seasonal ingredients

Mr Rogan epitomises the hyper-seasonal way of life so much so that his restaurant does not serve tomatoes on its breakfast menu during winter. “Instead we use tomatoes when they’re at their best, or preserve them. Once they run out, they run out,” he says.

Mr Rogan ferments, pickles or clamps his harvest to store and preserve any surplus fruit and vegetables for use throughout the year. Clamping is an ancient preservation method to store root crops such as carrots, potatoes and beetroot in well-drained soil over winter. This bodes well with Mintel research on Menu Trends showing that a number of British diners would like to see more fermented or pickled items when eating out.

As Mr Rogan’s and his chefs’ knowledge on plants grew whilst working on the farm, vegetables soon became “the star of the show”, while animal protein “became a supporting act” on his restaurant menus.

When asked if diners are indeed becoming more interested in a plant-based diet, he says, “The biggest triumph is when people come to dinner at L’Enclume and realise that they’ve had a lovely meal despite there not being a lot of meat or shellfish on the menu.”

The rise of this “incidental vegetarian” or “flexitarian” – those who aren’t exclusively vegetarian or meat eaters – is evident, as six in 10 diners say that they are eating more vegetables than they did a year ago.

Meanwhile, improved farming standards have boosted perceptions of meat, and according to Mr Rogan, the influence of health and the environmental awareness on over-consumption of meat is driving consumer demand for better quality meat (ie organic). As result, around three quarters of UK diners are now focusing more on the quality than the quantity of meat that they eat.

Credits: @rogan_simon on Instagram

Love food, hate waste

Mr Rogan’s zero waste ethos stems from his passion for cooking and an underlying aversion towards waste. It shows that by adopting some practical habits every day, nothing goes to waste.

“The farm gives us the scope to use up the bits that you can’t buy anywhere else, be it the root, the stem, the leaf, and flower. For example, we had 15 kg of celeriac roots that tastes absolutely amazing when you dehydrate and deep-fry them,” he says.

Vegan/vegetarian options are all the rage, yet so are meat-led concepts such as nose-to-tail cooking which utilises the whole animal as a sustainable method to reduce food waste.

“People’s knowledge has increased demand for unusual ingredients, like sweetbreads”, he says.

It is clear that L’Enclume is self-sufficient, but how does it work for Roganic, Mr Rogan’s second restaurant based in London?

In order for his chefs at Roganic to cook with ingredients harvested from Mr Rogan’s farm in Cartmel (Cumbria), it was important for him to explore sustainable solutions around delivery logistics that can help tackle inner-city congestion and air pollution.

“We found a pallet system where we can load pallets to a logistics company that collects it with lots of other pallets and delivers to Roganic.”

Credits: @rogan_simon on Instagram

Get the best out of waste

“We’re very fortunate we have a farm which we can utilise all the stuff. My biggest bug bear is polystyrene boxes,” he says.

While polystyrene is one of the most efficient and cost effective insulation for transporting food items, such as raw fish/meat, there is currently no viable way of recycling this material. Instead of sending these boxes to landfills, Mr Rogan re-uses them.

We grow forced shoots in polystyrene boxes. We found that they’re great for growing beetroot seeds in the dark to get a lovely red bleached leaf when they sprout.

As for waste that can be broken down into compost, Mr Rogan has a composting system which allows him to plough everything back to the land.

“We have gotten rid of rubbish bins and replaced them with an industrial shredder at the farm. Any waste, be in cooked, raw, bones, and fish, gets shredded. Even cardboard material gets shredded too. We have a static pile composting system that’s all layered with a recipe for breaking it down before it goes back on to the farm.”

This composting system is so successful that the farm started taking waste from pubs and restaurants around the area; eliminating the need for external refuse trucks coming to collect waste any more.

Credits: @rogan_simon on Instagram

Recommendations for the industry

While not many operators have the capacity to own their own farms, they can still take cues from Mr Rogan’s philosophy. According to Mr Rogan, “there’s never been a better time to try and carry out” a sustainable form of operation. Here are some tips:

  • Fermentation/pickling can help reduce food waste: fermenting and pickling fruit and vegetables can help tap into the flavours that come from fermented or pickled food, such as Kimchi
  • Zero waste is achievable if you compost; it you can’t do it yourselves try partnering with a local borough/community recycling system
  • Re-use and the circular economy– when dealing with non-recyclable packaging, such as polystyrene boxes, instead throwing boxes on landfill, Mr Rogan uses them as grow bags
Trish Caddy
Trish Caddy

Trish Caddy is a Senior Foodservice Analyst, writing reports about the UK’s eating out market. She previously worked as a restaurant cook in London.

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