Collaborate to Zero: Chantelle Nicholson
How can we achieve net-zero carbon and halt the climate crisis? By working together to drive widescale, meaningful change.
To this end, our CEO Mark Jankovich meets fellow eco-business leaders to swap insights and inspiration. This week, we’re honoured to welcome Chantelle Nicholson, Michelin green star polymath Chef and owner of Tredwells and All's Well.
Mark Jankovich: Thank you so much for your time and joining us on Collaborate to Zero. As an introduction, Chantelle is a New Zealander, a qualified lawyer, an author, a business woman, a restaurant owner and a sustainability champion. And then also to mention an influential woman in hospitality and a Michelin Green Star chef.
MJ: Today’s conversation is about the restaurant world and how they can collaborate and move forward to net zero. From your personal journey and restaurant career is there a moment or situation you realised we needed to be more aware of sustainability and climate change?
Chantelle Nicolson: I would say I’m very privileged having grown up in New Zealand, surrounded by amazing produce and nature. That really set the tone for me.
MJ: I think for people like us, who grew up in nature, it really becomes a part of you.
MJ: Could you imagine the uptake in plant-based eating we are seeing even just a few years ago? What’s causing it?
CN: We have got to the point where people are a lot more conscious now. Covid has taught us many things, and these conscious decisions are some of the good to come out of what has happened. I have this vision of us, pre-Covid being on a mouse wheel, constantly going and going and going. It was only when the wheel was stopped for us, we could hop off, sit back and see things in a more 360 approach.
MJ: I agree. It allowed us to stop and take stock. And think about how we want to build back better. If that drives better decisions, then that is the silver lining of a pretty dire situation.
MJ: Your book ‘Planted’ - love the name - is a book not for vegans, but about fantastically tasty food, just without meat. What was your inspiration behind it?
CN: It was two-fold. Firstly, from my perspective, growing up in New Zealand we had so much amazing produce. I love vegetables and enjoy eating them. For me, cooking with more vege was a natural progression. When I opened Tredwells, seven years ago, I wanted to make it really accessible, so to have everything clear on the menu for both allergens and dietary requirements, so guests didn’t have to ask too many questions and feel like it was an effort to find out more about what they could eat. This naturally led to more plant-based options, and thus an environment in which you wouldn’t be judged. Then secondly, as a chef, looking for plant-based recipes to use and inspire, I felt there wasn’t much around. So I wanted to create a resource for others.
MJ: Have you had to push local suppliers?
CN: The challenge is finding them and then getting the local product. It feels a bit harder than it should be and this is across front and back of house with food, beverage, and even cleaning products. We work to find the best things that work for the restaurant and from a wider perspective for the circular economy. If I can do it, then hopefully people will see it is possible and want to do it too.
MJ: Congratulations on your Michelin Green Star! Do you think restaurants will soon see this as the top Michelin award?
CN: It is something that is needed and needs to be recognised in the industry. Traditionally, waste was recognised but only in terms of food cost. The circular economy never came into it. It needs to be something that affirms what restaurants are doing and give examples of what can be done for others to work towards. It is the beginning of it, so it is a great start.
MJ: Shockingly the supply of food is the worst Green House Gas offender (25%). Construction is only 10%. How do we change it?
CN: For me it is a journey. My team and I are out searching to find best practice. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet. The way we change it is by people being more conscious. In terms of restaurants, I don’t believe in preaching to people, as this goes against the joy and pleasure of eating out. Instead, it is about the messaging and communicating that there is more information available if guests want it. In terms of waste, supermarkets need to do more, from packaging waste and portion sizes. It needs to be a 360 approach, and changes need to be made swiftly. From the farms to retailers to the restaurant, people need to know where their food comes from to get to their plate.
CN: Also in New Zealand, we had to eat seasonally because we were so isolated. In the UK, it was a shock to the system to get asparagus and strawberries in winter when I first arrived. This is all driven by consumption and demand, so instead we need to learn how to make the most of what we currently have. Embracing the imperfect is also important.. We shouldn’t be aiming for constant consistency in looks alone, we should aim for flavour. The consumer demand for consistency and sameness needs to flip to be supply driven, to eat what is available.
MJ: If you had a magic wand, what would you do or change in the restaurant world?
CN: There is a lot. Sustainability needs to be a 360 degree subject; made up of people, purpose, planet and profit. The hospitality industry has been through a harrowing 14 months. The challenges are real, and currently the biggest is with the staffing crisis. That is not sustainable. Probably one of the biggest things I would also change is to make the true cost of running a restaurant reflected in price to consumers. Everything that goes into it is often not reflected by the price. This would mean that farmers would be paid the true value of their work, and the teams paid for the skills that they have.
MJ: Are you going to COP26 in Glasgow, if yes what will you be doing, if not what should it be highlighting?
CN: TBC on the attending. But I would like action and implementation and not just ‘chat’ at COP. It is always one thing I find challenging; a lot of talk around the ‘what’, and not enough about the ‘how’. For restaurants, there is no guide or best practice on how to reduce carbon footprint and become more sustainable. That is what I hope to contribute to. To make it easier for everyone else to implement.
MJ: What are your favourite sustainability brands that are also leading the way?
CN: One is Chef Dan Barber and Blue Hill at Stone Barnes restaurant, where there is no menu as such. Instead, guests get to eat what is best at that time, most of it from local supply. There are a lot of great brands doing good things, such as Cauli Box, obviously what Delphis Eco is doing, and others like Toast Ale and Rubies in the Rubble.
MJ: Is there a podcast or book you would recommend?
CN: There is Silo by Douglas McMaster which is great for restaurants or anyone at home in terms of getting rid of single use plastic like cling film. Another great book is Sitopia by Carolyn Steel. She also wrote Hungry City – both are educational and interesting.
MJ: The big takeaways are that we need a better platform, and part of this is the platform, we need action coming from Government with real things that we can aim at. Circularity is critical and the manufacturers of tomorrow need to think of circularity. The piece about staff is slightly overlooked but it is critical that we take everyone on the journey with us.
Thank you to Chantelle for adding valuable insight to the restaurant industry and how we can Collaborate to Zero. Chantelle uses Delphis Eco products in her restaurants in order to further reduce the businesses carbon footprint. To find out more about her book and restaurants please visit http://www.chantellenicholson.com/
Read more about one of Chantelle’s favourite sustainability brand Toast in our Collaborate to Zero interview with co-founder and COO Louisa Ziane here.
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