Dining out sustainably


A Little Farm on the Hill is a beautiful six-acre slice of paradise tucked away in Bentong, Pahang.

Malaysian restaurants that have their heart set on sustainable practices

IN the past 50 years or so, as the has world experienced increased prosperity – especially in developed countries – there has also emerged a parallel culture of largesse and excess i.e. wastage. For the longest time, the top restaurants in the world sourced from all over the globe, getting in caviar from Russia, oysters from France and so on and so forth. Air miles were clocked all over the world and in these restaurant kitchens, only the choicest cuts were utilised.

These days, there has been a renaissance in interest in sustainability in line with the very real exigencies of climate change. A new and growing breed of restaurant owners and chefs are championing sustainability in all its forms, which is something that is desperately needed, given that in the United States alone, restaurants generate up to 34,000kg in food waste in a year.

Teo and his wife Ngan didn't know how to farm at all when they first started, but say Google has helped them tremendously.Teo and his wife Ngan didn't know how to farm at all when they first started, but say Google has helped them tremendously.

But sustainability in a restaurant context isn’t just eliminating wastage – i.e. using every part of a vegetable or animal and incorporating these practices throughout the restaurant, it is also about sourcing ingredients from the closest possible source.

Other aspects of sustainability in F&B includes using ethically-sourced sustainable packaging as well as energy-efficient equipment and even limiting water wastage.

It isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination but some restaurants in Malaysia are putting their best foot forward in the drive to be sustainable.

Pickle Dining

At Pickle Dining, chef-owner Danial Thorlby is hugely driven by the concept of sustainability. Nearly 90% of the vegetables on his European-influenced menu are sourced locally with 10% sourced from Japan. Danial is so committed to reducing his carbon footprint that he says in the future, he may remove these Japanese vegetables from his menu entirely.In terms of utilising every part of an ingredient – he says this is a concept that appeals to him and he routinely tries to use an entire ingredient – whether that means roasting onion skins or cooking heads of chives or smoking fish bones to turn into broths or fish stock.Perhaps one of the most useful methods Danial has employed at his restaurant is preservation techniques like fermentation and pickling, which typically extend the shelf life of different ingredients.

Koh is passionate about sustainability and works directly with two partner farms to get the produce for Caffe Sprouts, often harvesting the vegetables himself. — SHAWN KOHKoh is passionate about sustainability and works directly with two partner farms to get the produce for Caffe Sprouts, often harvesting the vegetables himself. — SHAWN KOH

At his restaurant, recycled glass bottles are packed with pickled or fermented ingredients from carrots to beetroots, and he incorporates all sorts of preservation techniques from all over the world, utilising primitive methods that were once prevalent in the era before refrigeration existed.

In the future – and in order to incorporate a more holistic ground-up approach to sustainability – Danial is hoping to introduce a smart system at the restaurant that will ensure the efficient use of equipment like air-conditioners at his restaurant.

Caffe Sprouts

Farm-to-table has become a buzzword in the F&B industry in the past few years, but few restaurants epitomise this quite as much as KL’s Caffe Sprouts.The eatery is one of the few restaurants in the Klang Valley whose partners are actually farmers based in Cameron Highlands and Shah Alam, Selangor.

The eatery led by seasoned chef Shawn Koh – has a very strong focus on vegetables, which are brought in directly from the partner farms that Koh works with. While the Cameron Highlands’ farm produces highland vegetables like momotaro tomatoes and courgettes, the Shah Alam farm makes use of lowland veggies like bak choy and spinach grown hydrophonically, a farming process that uses 90% less water than conventional farming.

Thorlby is very passionate about sustainability and reuses every component of his ingredients to make something else. — PICKLE DININGThorlby is very passionate about sustainability and reuses every component of his ingredients to make something else. — PICKLE DINING

Popular vegetable-focused dishes on the menu include the charred nai pak and grilled cabbage, among a host of others.

Koh also works with the farmers to help him grow specific breeds of vegetables, depending on his restaurant’s needs and requirements.

The restaurant recently announced that it would be moving to a new location at the end of July 2024, so exciting things are ahead for sure.

Ember KL

At Ember KL, chef-owner Gary Anwar espouses a very valid point: chefs are incredibly privileged to be able to play with food every day, which is why they must do this mindfully and with a view to avoiding wastage.Which is why Gary takes this very seriously. At Ember, he reverse engineers his thought process for every dish, which means a dish’s conception will involve contemplation of the waste that is involved.

So, for example, if he is making meringue for dessert, he will obviously have a lot of extra egg yolks on hand, but he will not introduce the dish until he figures out how to make use of the ‘eggs-tra’ yolks. Gary also looks at making use of what he has on hand. The restaurant features duck quite a bit on its menu, which is why he started turning the duck fat into oil and using it in his cooking.

At Ember, Gary ensures that every dish that he puts out can be utilised in its entirey. Beef trimmings from his steaks for instance go towards his beef tartare dish (pictured here). — EMBER KLAt Ember, Gary ensures that every dish that he puts out can be utilised in its entirey. Beef trimmings from his steaks for instance go towards his beef tartare dish (pictured here). — EMBER KL

These days, he says he has stopped buying vegetable oil and mostly uses duck fat or beef fat as his cooking oil.

Trimmings are also utilised. The steak that is on the menu for instance features premium cuts while the trimmings and cast-offs are used to make a beef tartare dish. While the restaurant started out with Japanese leanings, Gary has gotten very serious about sourcing locally and now says that if he cannot create a dish with only local produce, he doesn’t – with the only exceptions being beef and butter, which have to be imported.

Otherwise everything on his menu absolutely has to be locally sourced, or he simply won’t serve it.

A Little Farm on the Hill

What started out as a little six-acre organic farm in Pahang’s Janda Baik has now evolved into a thriving operation that supplies vegetables to supermarkets and top restaurants throughout the Klang Valley.The brainchild of architect Lisa Ngan and her husband Pete Teo, the farm grows a range of vegetables like pumpkin, peppers as well as fruits and herbs.

Fermentation and pickling are core preservation techniques that Thorlby practices at his restaurant in order to extend the shelf life of dishes and avoid food wastage. — PICKLE DININGFermentation and pickling are core preservation techniques that Thorlby practices at his restaurant in order to extend the shelf life of dishes and avoid food wastage. — PICKLE DINING

The farm also hosts weekend lunches and this is where you get to experience a farm-to-table meal in its truest sense, indulging in meals like roasted pumpkin, sweet peppers turned into dips and so on.

This is likely the most authentic farm-to-table experience out there, simply because you have a bird’s eye view of the farm and the produce you are tucking into, and this breeds an intrinsic sense of connection to the food you are eating.

Ignis KL

A restaurant that specialises in charcoal grilling with a Malaysian touch, Ignis KL makes a conscious effort to source its produce as sustainably as possible, including sourcing all of its garnishes and micro-herbs from sister restaurant The Farm Foodcraft’s urban garden (both restaurants are under the same ownership and share their fresh produce).

The Sabah slipper lobster is also a feature of Ignis KL's menu. — FILEPICThe Sabah slipper lobster is also a feature of Ignis KL's menu. — FILEPIC

The restaurant’s owners also have a stake in a farm in Bentong and while the farm currently only provides a few vegetables and fruits that go to the restaurant, there is a possibility that production will be expanded to supplement what the restaurant needs.

In addition, all the vegetables at the eatery are 100% local as is the seafood, like Sabah slipper lobster.

Executive chef Lroy Lim is also mindful of wastage and uses vegetable trimmings to flavour stocks and broths in a bid to limit wastage and encourage a culture of utilising every bit of an ingredient to its fullest.

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