[CHI/ENG] Is running a Green kitchen the future?
Date Published : 31 Jan 2019

Reduce, reduce, reduce
Saito Chau, chef of modern Chinese restaurant, John Anthony, is in a flurry of excitement when talking about his restaurant's eco-friendly design. “The pen I used was made of chicken bones; the coasters are made of recycled materials; and the lights are slightly dimmed to avoid wasting electricity. John Anthony is one of the few Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong that has followed the sustainable development path right at the very beginning of construction.”

Furthermore, organic ingredients and sustainable organic seafood take priority when ordering ingredients and produce. While Chau admits that it can be challenging to maintain a so called green kitchen, he says that it is important, even recycling bottles for homemade sauces.

When it comes to recycling for restaurants Little Bao and Happy Paradise owner, May Chow, is a little bit hesitant. "To be honest, as independent restaurants, the cost to be fully environmentally friendly is too high. I’ve asked HK Recycles, and apparently it costs almost HK$20,000 dollars each month to completely recycle everything.”

Facing high costs, they both agree that reducing is more applicable than recycling. "Reducing is more important than recycling, and consciously using sustainable materials is definitely more effective than, let’s say recycling plastic use.” Chow says.

Adding, “Take straws as an example, I remember one bar using bamboo tubes as straw replacements, which can be costly. One day my restaurant ran out of straws, so I decided to borrow some from them, and that’s when I found out they are not even using those, and customers were fine with it as well. I was surprised how easy people can adapt to change, and it’s clear that sometimes as restaurant owners, we tend to over-think.”

Since then, her restaurants no longer provide straws, and customers are happy to see waste being reduced as well.

Dilemma in the kitchen
While there are pros in reducing waste, hygiene in the kitchen is a very important factor and both chefs agree that for now plastic wrap and vacuum bags are staying. "Vacuum bags are something chefs can't replace just yet as it is a more hygienic way to store food and an important tool for slow-cooking," says Chow.

While Chau says he prefers plastic wrap, he has also considered the use of crispers, "However the refrigerator gets quite full after a few boxes, therefore it’s not as good as using plastic wrap. Space is a commodity in Hong Kong, and it’s not economical to use crispers that take up so much space."

Even though some practices have to remain, for now, Chow thinks the concept of Finishing all food from start to finish" has long been rooted in Chinese culture.  “The Chinese menu is actually very environmentally conscious. For example, with cabbage, we tend to cut the head and trim the tail and serve the best portion of the vegetable to the customers. Any extra leaves will be dried, shredded and fried for decoration; and the stalks used for fried rice. We have a signature dish, where we cut the sirloin into square granules. The extra meat will be used to make Mapo tofu or stir-fried beef rice, while the extra pork is used for minced meat or another tofu dish for our employees to eat; nothing will go to waste,” she explains.
As the song goes, “It’s not easy being green.” Chow picks up a piece of tissue and says, “You know, not all brown coloured (unbleached) tissues are environmentally friendly; some producers simply dye them and pretend otherwise.” Her feelings of anger and helplessness are understandable, as being a restaurant owner, she understands even if she made sure everything in her restaurants are ‘green', it does not necessarily equate to success.

As for being sustainable, there has to be a balance between her vision and the reality and she hopes going green isn’t something exclusive to only a group, or even a subset of people with economic power. “There are some restaurants in Hong Kong that can achieve 100% sustainability, however the price of that for the diner would be a $200 to $300 per person lunch, which would not work for the majority.”

After some time pondering the subject she adds, “We need to be more down to earth,” explaining that only education can promote change.

“If everyone decided and wanted to be sustainable, then it’ll become a culture. For example, purchasing something that’s slightly more expensive but promotes green living, or taking the time to understand sustainable food; these acts can really turn culture into a habit, and change people from the core.”

Plant-based trending
Although it may only be a small act towards green, serving more vegetarian options is something professional kitchens can do. “I have a regular who can now only eat Impossible Food’s vegetarian patty at my restaurant, Little Bao. He (the regular) said prior to that, consuming vegetarian ‘meat’ didn’t even cross his mind, but he feels better for it” says Chow. Chau also uses plant-based meat alternatives, including in his baked chicken liver and meat ball dishes, and says his customers are all for it too.

While there’s no doubt becoming a vegetarian or vegan can be beneficial for the environment, the real fight here is get government support. “Let’ say one day the government decided to levy a plastic lunch box tax and then subsidises the environmentally friendly lunch box to make its price more competitive. Restaurants are based on business and therefore will choose the more economical option: the environmentally friendly lunch box,” says Chow.

From the kitchen to the table; from an individual to the society; if we can change bit by bit, step-by-step, the road to green living will certainly be an easier path.

周世韜(Saito)是摩登中菜餐廳John Anthony的大廚,說起餐廳的環保設計,雀躍得很,「我用的筆是用雞骨頭所造,餐廳裡的杯墊用回收物料所造,餐廳的燈光刻意調暗,以免浪費電源。」John Anthony是香港少數打從建造一刻開始,就以永續為大前題的中餐廳,食材也會先考慮有機食材或者永續海有機食材或者永續海鮮,過  往中式酒樓和餐廳,以快見稱,見柯打即落鑊,五分鐘便有香噴噴的炒飯端在食客前,「正因為中菜廚房比較急速,我們有時難以兼顧環保細節。」例如分類回收,現時只靠大廚們盡量做,或者直接重用玻璃瓶來載醬汁。說到回收,營運的餐廳Little Bao及Happy Paradise的周思薇(May),就有點卻步,「老實說,我們始終是獨立經營的餐廳,有些環保事宜,代價太高,我問過HK Recycles,每個月幾乎要二萬元才可以完全回收餐廳的垃圾。」面對高昂的成本,她和Saito異口同聲地說:回收不如減廢。「Reduce比Recycle重要,有意識地使用可持續的素材,比起用塑膠但回收,更有成效。以飲管為例,我記得酒吧The Old Man使用竹製的飲管,成本頗高,有一天,我的餐廳不夠飲管,我去問他們借,卻發現他們已經不再用了,顧客也沒有怎麼問,總之沒有就算了,我才驚覺,原來人這麼容易習慣改變,有時是我們作為餐廳東主想多了。」從此May的餐廳便不提供飲管,顧客亦樂於見到源頭減廢。


May隨手拿起一張紙巾說:「你知道嗎,啡色的紙巾,不代表是環保紙,有些廠商會將紙染成啡色,掩人耳目。」May說起來,既氣憤又無奈,作為廚房和餐廳東主的她,認為做齊所有的環保事情,不代表生意會好,說到環保和永續,少不免要在理想與現實中取個平衡,她極不希望,環保只是社會上某些人、某些族群,甚至只是某些經濟「階級」的人可以參與,香港有些餐廳還真的做到100%可持續發展,但代價是午餐平均消費$200-300位,他們的客群是外國人,或者消費力高,在意餐廳的理念和環保政策是否和他們的生活相同。她認真地想了一會兒,「一定要貼地。」她解釋只有教育才能帶來改變,如果每個人都願意,所有人都做,才得形成一個文化,例如購買貴一點但對環境有利的東西,或者願意去了解食材的可持續性,將文化變成了習慣,才能夠根深柢固地改變。May和Saito的餐廳雖然都是商業機構,但他們沒有限制自己為環保走多步的可能性,其中一小步,是開始創作更多素款式,「有位熟客只在我的餐廳Little Bao才會吃Impossible Food素肉,他說吃了沒有Meat sweat,感覺好舒服,在此之前,他沒有想過要吃素肉。」Saito也說自己利用素肉來做金錢雞、獅子頭,食客也很滿意。吃素環保,這點不用多解釋了,但如何令普羅大眾都欣然接受,將改變成為文化、習慣,這是May和Saito都希望推動的教育,不過他們認為私人機構的力量始終不及政府,May解釋:「舉例說如果有一天,政府徵收塑膠飯盒稅,然後資助環保飯盒,令它的價格更有競爭力,餐廳以生意為本,一定懂得取捨,選擇環保飯盒。」


Gloria Chung @foodandtravelhk


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