"I strongly believe that our health and the health of the planet are intrinsically tied together—you can’t separate one from the other. And I think that we aren’t addressing the issue adequately enough, and that really concerns me. Without trying to be critical, I find that a lot of the eating I see people do is very “I” centered: It’s about me, my health. I also think that many “healthy” people are being fooled by big companies who have co-opted certain foods and are selling dishonest products that play to our vanity and our fears more than any real issues. To me, there is no one superfood: A chia seed isn’t going to solve your problems.
So what does personal and planetary health look like to me? Well, it starts with good, clean soil at the heart of everything. At Spring [Gyngell’s flagship restaurant in London], I work with a biodynamic farm, which I’d describe as a type of organic farm on steroids. It focuses on tuning into the earth: You plant according to the lunar cycle and there are only certain days that you can harvest, and so on. It’s quite a complex approach to growing food, but it makes complete sense as soon as you understand it. How we’ve approached farming in the last century really saddens me. We’ve gone to war with nature, instead of working with it. We’ve made food cheaper by artificially prolonging its shelf life, but we haven’t made it good for you.
I want to be part of the solution though, because I believe in the power of one, and then another one, one, one etcetera, until suddenly there’s hundreds of us together and it’s a full movement. The first thing I tackled was food waste, because as a chef I know how many perfectly good ingredients are systematically discarded thanks to my industry. One of our solutions at Spring was to create what we call a Scratch Menu, where you can eat food waste for a fraction of our normal prices. It’s far from dumpster diving. It’s just all the things (like outer leaves and other excess ingredients, like bread which we mill down and make into flour for cakes), that don’t quite make it onto our a la carte menu.
Last year Spring became single-use plastic-free, too. It all came about after I met Sian Sutherland, who’s the co-founder of company called A Plastic Planet. She told me to watch A Plastic Ocean on Netflix, and it was an eye-opening experience. Up until that point I didn’t know that only 9% of all plastic since 1947 has been recycled successfully, or that baby birds, jellyfish, and tortoises are dying at an alarming rate because their stomachs are being punctured by plastic floating in the ocean that they think is food. Sian showed me that recycling isn’t the option—we’ve got to turn off the tap.
But I needed some practical guidance, so I asked her to come in and show me and my team what we could do. Together, we identified six single-use items that we could get rid of in the kitchen, and then we went back over all our orders for every year and did some statistics. For cling-film [saran wrap], we worked out that we had used 3,600 kilometers of it. Now we use cellulose, which a veg-compostable alternative. We also went out and bought lids for everything and made stickers. Then we bought sheets and sheets of bee’s wrap, which we wash and reuse. We also replaced plastic straws with veg-compost straws and switched to refillable soaps and lotions in our bathroom.
Everything else that came to the restaurant in plastic, we wrote and asked the supplier to stop using it. Those that couldn’t, we stopped working with. The plastic Tupperware that we already had, we continue to clean and reuse until it’s at the end of its life cycle and then it gets discarded, never to be replaced again. All our table water comes from a filtered tap, so bingo—no plastic bottles, either.
In terms of the type of meals I serve and eat at home, I don’t differentiate between my professional and personal tastes. It wouldn’t feel authentic to cook one way for others and eat another myself. I eat mainly vegetables and grains, with very little meat. Not because I don’t like meat (steak is delicious!), but there’s so much beauty and variety in vegetables that I don’t need much of it. I firmly believe, also, that everything is good for you in moderation—as long as it’s made with the right ingredients. Dark chocolate can be exquisite. Extra virgin olive is the elixir of life. But a little butter isn’t bad, either.
If you’re looking to avoid food waste at home, my biggest tip is to go to the farmer’s market, or your local fishmonger and butcher. Make a relationship with the people who are selling you your food and ask them questions: How do I cook this? What goes with that? How can I use the scraps? Can this be composted? People who are passionate about selling produce will be happy to talk to you.
Also: Shop in small amounts. I never do a big supermarket shop, I just grab things on the way home to make just enough of what I need. Smaller amounts of quality ingredients will go a long way to making a delicious meal. And you don’t need tons of gadgets in the kitchen, either. A really good pestle and mortar, a lovely wooden chopping board, some sharp knives—that’s enough for me."