More Gold Coast talks to My Restaurant Rules contestant Simon Grigalius, environmental scientist, chef and sustainability consultant.
Chefs donning gumboots on the weekends, composting leftovers in the kitchen garden, running a farm to ensure supply and seasonal connection, bartering with local growers, sourcing from community gardens, and offering leftover herbs and vegetables for free. These are all activities for today’s ‘sustainability-oriented’ chefs.
Yet sustainability is not a word that readily comes to mind when we think of the past development of Australia or the Gold Coast.
As we develop a vision of the Gold Coast as a city more complex than a holiday town whose reputation was built on surf beaches and theme parks, it’s worth turning to experts for their opinion.
One such specialist is Simon Grigalius. We first met Simon as a contestant on My Restaurant Rules, but Simon’s career in hospitality had begun long before when he worked two jobs in high school: in the fruit and vegie department of a large supermarket and as a kitchen hand in Ahmed’s Lebanese Restaurant, Surfers Paradise.
Now as an environmental scientist and an experienced chef researching sustainable food production, Simon is the sustainability consultant behind the trade name MYLK.
We asked Simon some questions…
How did sustainability first become a focus for you?
“After cooking in restaurants for years, I became involved in a lot of large event catering. All the food was ‘brought in’. Of course, there are a lot of reasons for this type of catering. Firstly staffing, particularly the dropping standards in the skill level of hospitality staff, and secondly the ease factor, especially in remote locations where facilities were not conducive to making food from scratch.
For the first time, I noticed the degree of waste in the food industry. It really grated on me and I had an epiphany: our current cooking methods are not sustainable; we need to listen to our environment and protect our food system.
I realised that chefs don’t have the time or money to upskill because the industry is so dependent on financial survival or profit rather than quality of food, ethics, or integration with the environment. Being a chef and sustainability expert, I could see a place bridging the gap between chefs and food suppliers, helping them work with food in season to use a more traditional style of ‘nose to tail’ cuisine.”
So, what is sustainable food production?
“An overarching definition of sustainability is taking what you need but leaving enough for the next generation.
As a society, we’re busy pushing price point down rather than quality up. We don’t want to pay the proper price for goods, so we don’t have the proper respect for our produce. We’re stretching natural law and productivity all the time. We’re growing food where it shouldn’t be grown, resulting in soil depletion and huge natural resource consumption.
We can’t keep using up resources. We need to be thinking two hundred years ahead, not just five. We need to adapt our diets to the country we have, eating more nutritious food and less of it, wasting far less.”
What about the Gold Coast? Where are we up to?
“We’ve got the opportunity to adopt some environmentally sustainable planning principles to take us through to the next century. We’ve been geared to promote big business rather than small producers, but that has to change.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. We have pockets of sustainable production, such as Lower Beechmont, the Northern Rivers and the Currumbin Valley community gardens, but sustainable practice is not widespread.”
We ask Simon about some examples of sustainable practice in our community. He says there are several cafés and restaurants that show sustainable practices on a number of different levels:
At a grassroots level, Chef Justin Walker at The Millers Hands, Mudgeeraba, lives his passion for best culinary practice, using fresh organic or ethical produce with as few food miles as possible, organic spelt bread from a local bakery, produce from the Beechmont Community Gardens, Numinbah grass-fed beef and ethically sourced coffee.
“There’s no real menu,” Justin had told us earlier.
“It just depends on what we can source ethically, what’s in season. We barter for what we can. We try to buy certified organic products as much as possible, use homemade sauerkraut, house pickled cucumber and chutney.”
More interesting again is his connection to local clientele: allowing community wares to be sold in the shop, looking at a book swap area, and the possibility of book clubs and small community groups meeting in the café. He’s open to the unfolding of the café’s space, according to its purpose of ‘community’ and the service he can give to the neighbourhood.
Meanwhile, Nerissa and Mitch McCluskey, owners of Etsu and Commune, have taken the plunge and purchased land at Gilston to build towards the sustainability of both their restaurants. With waste from the restaurants being recycled into compost, the couple are growing vegetables, fruit, and harder to source Japanese ingredients for their izakaya restaurant, their produce expected to hit plates within a couple of months. Although their garden is still work in progress, it’s a huge leap forward from the scattering of kitchen gardens we see around the coast.
On a larger scale, Currumbin RSL is a shining example of how a large venue can move towards ecological and community sustainability.
“…there is no greater exercise for the heart than reaching down and helping someone up.” Ron Workman, Currumbin RSL Chairman
The RSL’s main restaurant carries the logo, “Locally sourced, seasonal, fun and absolutely delicious”. About 5 per cent of the produce (some vegetables and all the herbs) used in the club’s kitchens comes from their own gardens, begun in 2011. The rest of the produce used is almost entirely sourced from local suppliers, whose products are featured on the menu. Food scraps are used to feed the worm farm, and the castings used as compost on the gardens. All glass, aluminium, plastic and cardboard is recycled and electricity conservation is also a priority. In total, the club has reduced waste by over 10 ton per year, with the added benefit of cutting costs!
Our conversation with Simon moves on to waste management, the role of OzHarvest in garnishing leftovers to provide food for the hungry, an app he’s developing to minimize waste, and the practice of ‘dumpster diving’, before we swing back to focus on local sustainability.
How can we be more sustainable?
“Besides consuming less, as individuals, we can grow more of our own food, and be more discriminating with our buying. Go to the farmers’ markets (the organic ones if you can), talk to the farmers and find out how they grow the food we’re purchasing.
Use water capture, compost organic waste, use low wattage bulbs, eat local seasonal seafood (mackerel, bream and skipjack) instead of the usual imported ‘fish of the day’ – basa. Just think of the food miles that would be saved!
There’s a lack of education about food, as well. It’s so important for our kids to understand what it takes to grow food – whether at home or in a school garden. We also don’t really understand the effect of food on our body and how food grows cells. There’s so much more to do in this field.
If we placed sustainability and longevity at the top of both our personal and town planning models, adopting those principles across the board, we could turn things around.
Sustainability needs to incorporate transport, building materials, producers and the rest of the planning that goes into designing this ‘new’ city. If we can encourage positive policy in a local council level, the Gold Coast may have a chance to stand out as the greenest city in Australia and to reinvent itself as the Australian eco-poster child.
Where there is large-scale development, like the light rail, let’s make sure that the development creates a ‘greener’ landscape. Encourage a sustainable approach in cafés and restaurants. Both the farmers and consumers would benefit, and the effect may spread across into other industries. Use some park space, now presently used to grow flowers, to create community gardens and edible produce, including edible native plants. Create communal spaces and ‘markettas’ where people can meet to promote community wellness.
As a society, we need to provide incentives for sustainability, and green tick ratings for sustainable businesses and projects. We need incentives for compost recycling. Presently, there’s no accountability; neither is there any reward for sustainable practices.
Frankly, I think we know what we’re doing wrong. Sustainability is not just a box to tick, or the latest ‘buzz word’ to throw around. We need to be creating strong policies and acting on our beliefs, not just talking about them! We need to find the ‘green behind the gold’. It takes everyone to do things a little bit better, and we’d all be better off.”