One of the world's most famous chefs has turned to Australia for an innovative way to recycle his kitchen waste.
Rene Redzepi of Copenhagen's Noma restaurant has installed an Australian-designed zero-waste system after witnessing it in action at a Melbourne cafe.
Developed by the Closed Loop company, it transforms food waste into a concentrated compost that's used to revitalise and nourish soil. It was a key component in making Melbourne's green cafe Silo by Joost a 100 per cent waste-free cafe.
"Rene actually stuck his hands in the machine when he was at Silo last October and smelt the compost," says Silo and Brothl mastermind Joost Bakker, who leases a Closed Loop unit. ''The first thing he said was 'Have you cooked anything in here?' The second thing he said was 'I've got to have this machine. This has to be at Noma.'"
The Closed Loop machine turns food waste into compost, reducing its volume by 90 per cent, in 24 hours.
Noma - currently ranked number one on the prestigious World's 50 Best Restaurants list - fired up its Closed Loop compost system this week and by all reports it's running beautifully.
"I was talking to Noma this morning," says Bakker. "They're really happy with it. I told them it's a bit like making bread, though - you've got to wait for the culture to build - but after three or four weeks the compost should be cranking."
About 60 cafes and restaurants in Australia have installed a Closed Loop compost system.
Alex Atala of acclaimed D.O.M restaurant in Brazil is another famous adopter of the zero-waste machine, after being wowed the system during a breakfast at Silo.
Says Bakker: "He said 'I just feel so overwhelmed by the simplicity of this idea. You've just shown me how easy it is to operate a hospitality business with no waste.'"
Atala has installed two machines and plans to use the system as part of a social enterprise in Brazil.
"He'll put the machines into restaurants and then use the revenue from the compost to fund a program for disadvantaged people in terms of reusing food and food waste," says Closed Loop managing director Rob Pascoe.
The plan is similar to Pascoe's City Harvest program in Australia, where compost is used on gardens in the city - tended to by disadvantaged youth. The City Harvest program is in its ''early days'' according to Pascoe. The first garden is being built in Melbourne and the idea is to provide a solution for chefs in the city who want to grow produce for their kitchen but don't have a garden to do so.
The program also aspires to be a social enterprise by assisting disadvantaged youth with employment opportunities who will tend to the gardens. Produce from the gardens would then be sold back to participating restaurants.
Bakker says chefs are the new environmental activists, with Redzepi the classic example.
"He's a reluctant hero," says Bakker. "I don't think he feels comfortable being carved as a hero, but he's one of those guys who realised 'Well, this is what I am, and I may as well do something with that title.' What Rene has done to promote locally sourced food and make people proud of their local produce has had a massive positive impact on the environment and that's something he should be very proud of."
Silo was famous for needing no wheely bins, as it consumed, used or recycled everything used in the cafe. In one year at Silo, 45 tonnes of organic waste was fed into the Closed Loop machine. This reduced down to 10 per cent, or 4.5 tonnes, of organic compost. Bakker says this is enough to fertilise about three to four hectares of soil.
"There are some serious benefits here," he says. "For me it's all about the soil. Making people realise that good soil is the most important thing on the planet and if we don't start cherishing it then we're all in trouble."
Bakker believes one of the reasons people are deficient in vitamins is that chemical fertilisers have depleted our soils of the complex nutrients they once had.
"My dream is that in ten years time hospitality venues don't exist without one of these machines," he says. "Restaurants and cafes can be the providers of nutrients to our farmers."
Closed Loop compost systems are leased to commercial kitchens for anywhere between $50-$400 a month, depending on the size of the machine and the amount of waste produced by the kitchen. Domestic units retail for a one-off price for approximately $500.