Australian chef Matt Stone is a legend in the food scene thanks to his dedication to sustainability and a zero-waste food system. To find out more about his ethos, Jordan Mooney spoke to Matt after his inspiring talk at 2019 Food On The Edge gastronomy symposium.
Right now, Australia is a hub for exciting food. A quick look on Instagram will show you that Melbourne is where to go for amazing coffee, Sydney is packed with trendy food and Tasmania has the best produce in the vast country.
As is also trendy right now, a large eco-friendly, zero-waste movement has crept across the land down under, with the infamous hole in the ozone layer now the smallest it's ever been. It might seem like this widely-embraced green lifestyle is something new, but for chef Matt Stone, it is a lifestyle he has been committed to for more than 10 years.
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Since joining the age of 22, Matt has run several different eco-friendly restaurants, embracing a sustainable culinary career along the way, which he says has not always been easy.
"To be honest, people didn’t quite understand the depth of what we wanted to do. It’s been a decade of work that is really only now being recognised, but we never did it for that purpose. With Silo [a previous restaurant Matt ran], we went completely zero-waste and people assumed that was only in terms of food but it wasn’t until they came into our tiny little space that they realised there was no rubbish bin and there was actually no waste being generated. We’re a café and for people in Melbourne, a café is a really big thing. We have a really big coffee culture here, but we had no takeaway cups at the café and people were outraged. They were like ‘What do you mean I can’t get my coffee for takeaway’ and I always said, ‘Look, we’re in Melbourne and if you want takeaway coffee, there are a million places you can go, but if you want our coffee, you have to be here. If you can’t make five minutes to sit down and have a coffee, then I think you need to prioritise your life differently.’ We had people walk out because they couldn’t get a takeaway coffee."
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However, Matt does think perceptions towards a greener lifestyle have changed. According to the 2019 Sign of the Times survey by Behaviour & Attitudes published by the Irish Times, 83 per cent of Irish people believe sustainability is a global issue that needs to be addressed; further to this, 51 per cent of consumers choose products based on their sustainability, so it really is clear that we are making strides towards a new lifestyle. On a microscale, this can be clearly seen in Matt's clientele, who seem to have come around to his way of thinking.
"At the restaurant, we only serve whole animals; we actually only serve as little meat as possible but I have a diverse group of guests coming into the restaurant and our menu is priced at $90 for five courses, so it’s not cheap – I don’t think it’s expensive either – but people expect some meat in there, even though there is much more value in growing vegetables. I would love to serve a fully vegetable menu but people perceive meat as value.
In saying that, we do serve some meat from whole animals, so if I break down a lamb for the weekend, the menu will just read lamb. It’s funny because people ask what cut it is and often the staff can’t keep up with what cut we’re on because it’s so busy, sometimes I don’t even know what cut they’re going to get!
At the start, cooking this way was hard for people to get their heads around, they would say ‘I don’t like the leg’ or ‘I only want the backstrap or the fillet’, which is a prize piece. It’s taken us five years to get people’s heads around the fact that they are going to get a delicious meal and it will be lamb, but I can’t really say what cut it will be. It’s my job to give people a good experience. My ethos is still there and I really believe in that. At the start, I was very egotistical, but my perception has changed over the past few years and I know now that it’s not about me, it’s about my guests’ experiences, which is a really big thing."
All The Small Things
This commitment to total sustainability is something we are now starting to see in Ireland with chefs like Conor Spacey spearheading initiatives to create a greener Ireland. It's daunting to imagine how much work must be done to rectify our broken food system, but in just over a decade, Matt has made serious headway in Australia. Curious to know what we would need to do to be even a tiny bit more sustainable, I asked Matt about how we could integrate systems similar to his here.
"Nothing is too small, every little thing makes a big difference. It’s quite an overwhelming thought to think about how much waste we generate in our day-to-day lives but seasonality is the key to changing this. If you eat seasonally, then generally the food is more localised, so it will be more delicious and it will create less waste.
Around 58% of the world’s carbon emissions are due to food and we don’t talk about this because we all love having strawberries in winter because we’ve become accustomed to having lots of food all the time. I think eating seasonally is the first step to minimising your waste and your impact."