Farm to Table Comes Full Circle

While most of us might groan if we looked in the fridge and saw leftover kale soup staring back at us, Chef Paul Svensson sees an opportunity. In his world kale soup can be used to make bright green ricotta-and kale-stuffed crepes and his new cookbook is about how to use old produce and treat leftovers like they did in the old days – as components for the next day’s meals. During 2016 Svensson’s goal is to have zero waste at his restaurant at Fotografiska, Stockholm’s photography museum. Upcycling is just one of the tricks up his green sleeve. Like at many restaurants and companies in Sweden today, running a sustainable business involves more than reducing waste.

Waste not, want not

In the village of Sikås in Jämtland restaurateur and food celebrity Fia Gulliksson helped found Sikåsköket, where they use only organic and/or local produce and products. On the menu you’ll find a plate of local cheeses and charcuterie made from old regional recipes – like succulent tjälknöl, which is usually made from moose meat that is cooked for 12-16 hours at a low temperature then marinated in the fridge with garlic, cranberries and bay leaves. But another key aspect of the business is to work closely with the neighboring grocery store so they can keep tabs on produce that’s nearing its expiration date and use it before it goes to waste.

One company that’s generated a lot of press on the subject is Scandinavian Organics, which manufactures meatballs, hamburgers, broth and other products based on previously discarded ingredients. Their first rescue effort was to take advantage of meat from egg-laying hens that would otherwise have been burned and turn it into a rich and fortifying broth.

“In Sweden about 30-40% of all potatoes and about 25-30% of all carrots and onions get thrown away because they are crooked or wrinkled,” says CEO Nils Wetterlind. “I believe that even ugly things have value.” The company, which started only a few years ago, now produces 40-50 tons of organic food each month and their latest product, a bullion drink, is now available at 7Eleven and other stores throughout England, Denmark and Sweden.

A big part of Scandinavian Organics’ success has been their acceptance among the kitchens of schools and elderly homes in the region of Södertälje, where the municipality encourages the purchasing of organic and locally grown ingredients.

“Sustainable Restaurants” (Hållbara Restauranger) is a network that was started by U&We, an agency in Sweden that works with environmental issues. The project aims to close the gap between what consumers want and what restaurants are currently providing. On their website they provide a toolbox with good examples, information and checklists regarding everything from waste separation to techniques for encouraging guests to take unfinished food home in doggie bags.

One best practice they point to is at Teaterbaren in Stockholm, which sorts their trash and waste into 18 different categories – a key tactic in reducing the amount of waste that reaches landfills. The Sustainable Restaurants website also points to unique solutions like Grace Organics’ Food Waste Master – a unique composting machine for the on-site treatment of food waste. In goes the waste – out comes compost.

With the help of Stockholm Gas, Operakällaren has taken waste disposal one step further. Since February 1, 2016, they have been running their ranges on biogas and they are now the first restaurant to be listed in the White Guide with a symbol indicating “biogas.” Produced by processing food waste, biogas is a non-fossil fuel and renewable energy source – the use of which does not contribute to the greenhouse effect.

While hunting for quality ingredients, K-Märkt in Stockholm developed a three-pronged approach that helps the supplier, its own kitchen and the dining guest to minimize waste. To start with, K-Märkt buys its meat, fish and produce at night, requiring the kitchen to build dishes around the available ingredients rather than buying ingredients for a pre-set menu. “If a purveyor has a surplus of quality corn, we will buy it and serve corn all week – in five different ways,” says co-owner Jens Dolk. Secondly, there is no set menu: the kitchen reduces its own waste by preparing meals “à la minute,” changing up the proteins and dishes when/if they run out. “We can’t even say what we will serve from hour to hour,” adds Dolk. Lastly, they charge by weight, encouraging diners to take only what they can eat. Dolk says that while they hope to inspire other restaurants, the average Swedes wastes 20% of the groceries they purchase, “We as individuals must learn these techniques and teach them to our children.”

Local is the new organic

This January Sweden’s national institute for adult education, Folkuniversitetet, saw its first class of chefs graduate from the program in Sustainable Gastronomy that it founded in 2014 in Mölndal outside Gothenburg. “We see a demand for chefs with a clear ecological profile,” they said in their justification for the program. They go on to say that the program is “for those who want to make Swedish cuisine one of the best and most sustainable in the world.”

Chefs in the program learn how to work with seasonal ingredients and adjust their approach with respect to their customers, the environment and animal husbandry. Here the classroom kitchen is located on a working farm, of course.

Farms with attached restaurants have also been forerunners in sustainability, such as Ängavallen and Gunnebo Slott. For three years in a row Lilla Bjers on Gotland, which is 100% organic, has won the most Sustainable Gastronomy award, which is presented by the White Guide and KRAV, Sweden’s certifier of all things organic. But there are perhaps a hundred more farm kitchens scattered across the country, like Grannäsets Gård outside of Kälarne in eastern Jämtland where you can enjoy a meal made of ingredients grown on the farm or nearby and take some of their homemade marmalade or chutney home with you. Or Östarps Gästgivaregård in Skåne, a third-generation family farm where, according to the White Guide, you can sample the country’s best äggkaka – a fluffy, cake-like omelet served with local smoked pork, macerated lingonberries and chives.

Many restaurants in Sweden have become famous for sourcing ingredients from their own garden or farm, like Fäviken Magasinet, Daniel Berlin’s restaurant in Skåne Tranås, and Gastrologik in Stockholm, which relies heavily on Rosendals Trädgård for its vegetables.

In his 2014 talk at the Åre Sustainability Summit, Chef Svensson said, “Organic is the new given. It’s local that needs to be emphasized.” For Svensson his sustainable philosophy comes down to quality, exclusivity, portions and balance. “Local ingredients are fresher and therefore of higher quality,” he explained. “Seasonal ingredients become exclusive when we don’t see them on the plate every day, smaller portions mean less waste – and by balance I mean we need to use less meat and give vegetables more status.”

One man’s meat

This winter when Filip Fastén, Sweden’s Chef of the Year in 2014, opened his much-hyped restaurant, Agrikultur, in addition to focusing on local produce he claimed to be focused on wasting less – and using less meat.

“We want to reduce the amount of proteins and increase the role of vegetables and root vegetables on the plate,” Fastén told the White Guide. “We are working with good producers, supporting Swedish agriculture and not major wholesalers, which the restaurant’s name refers to.” When it comes to the meat they serve, it is either locally sourced or comes from animals Fastén has hunted himself – and he hopes to help other staff members get hunting licenses too.

This is in line with a greater consumer trend: consumers want access to properly butchered, quality meat. That’s the business of Hälsingestintan, the traveling butcher, which is taking a lot of flak at the moment for the bold statements they’ve made about the quality of Swedish meat.

Fifteen years ago, Britt-Marie Stegs founded Hälsingestintan because, although quality Swedish meat existed, there was no means of sorting it at the slaughterhouse. What consumers bought at the store was essentially an “anonymous” product of unknown quality. This also created a secondary effect: farmers who invested in producing a quality result did not benefit any more than those who did not.

Today Hälsingestintan travels in their mobile butchering truck to the country’s top breeders. Butchering the meat on-site, instead of at the slaughterhouse, not only causes less stress on the animals – it results in better-tasting meat, unaffected by hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Hälsingestintan then hangs the meat for a minimum of seven days – a costly and time-consuming process that results in a denser, tenderer product with a concentrated beef flavor.

While many of the techniques restaurants and food companies are using to become more sustainable are about an attempt to reduce impact on our imperiled planet, there is a second, more personal motivation as well: better food. Melker Andersson and Danyel Couet, the well-known Stockholm chef/restaurateur duo, recently opened what they’re calling their “most personal restraint yet.” Having both come to the realization that their diets were not making them feel better, they explain on their web site, they “spent months finding out more about nutrition, how our bodies work, what they want, and what they would rather not have.” At Mother the menu is built around helping diners decide what to eat based on how hungry you are, or how much energy your body needs. Here, too, meat takes a back seat and instead of having a special gluten-free menu, the menu has a special sign for items that include wheat. Sure, there’s alcohol on the menu (much of it organic) – and booster shots to aid in digestion (they recommend a combo). One need only peek inside to see that this no ordinary jazzed-up juice bar – this is sustainability made sexy.