Scores of London restaurants are serving vegetables grown in “Michelin-starred” compost made from their own food waste.
Igor Vaintraub, 43, launched Indie Ecology as a start-up in 2011 and today collects food waste in 120-litre sealed bins from more than 80 top restaurants in the capital, including Michelin-starred The Ledbury, Michel Roux’s La Gavroche, and Robin Gill’s The Dairy and Sorella.
He uses natural and pesticide-free processes, based on the Japanese “Bokashi” method using fermented molasses, to turn venues’ high-end leftovers - including meat, fish and dairy - into compost on a 10-acre farm in West Sussex, where he rents plots to chefs who tell him what hand-picked vegetables they want grown.
Mr Vaintraub, who studied with the British Society of Soil Science, is on a mission to make the restaurant industry more eco-friendly.
He said: “Other than the bins and some delivery plastic the whole process is plastic free… We recycle seven tonnes per day, seven days each week, and we are a tiny operation. We are trying to do something different. Waste was looked at as something that people take away and forget about, but we wanted to educate chefs especially as they generate a lot of this commodity [waste].”
Mr Vaintraub’s business partner, Tom Morphew, said: “At first I think chefs were a bit dubious about coming on board with us, as there was a cost involved and it was not something they had ever done before. But once they started the produce, it is 100 times better than what they buy from wholesalers that is force-grown in greenhouses.”
Former Masterchef finalist and The Frog restaurateur Adam Handling, 29, is Indie Ecology’s largest client.
He said: “We now have a massive plot [at the farm] and our menu changes depending on what we get from the plot, it is quite veg-centric.
“We want to really plan the menu a year in advance, which is something I had not done before, and with Igor we can get a lot more crazy vegetables because we rent the farm.
“I think more chefs nowadays - we are never going to save the world - but we should fundamentally respect the ingredients we are using.”
The compost could soon exceed its current gourmet pedigree, as Laurent Perrier are planning to donate waste champagne grape sugars for Indie Ecology molasses, and the brand has put in a request to the Environment Agency to open a facility in central London.
Laurent-Perrier will host food pairing masterclasses with Indie Ecology at Taste of London from June 13- 17 for £20 per person. Tickets at https://london.tastefestivals.com/tickets./