Opt for locally-sourced and seasonal produce as much as possible to cut down on plastic packaging and burning of fossil fuels, say chefs. Image: Shutterstock
ustainable cooking involves making conscious choices to reduce waste, conserve resources, and promote environmentally-friendly practices. This means creating ingenious ways to transform food scraps while leaving behind a minimal carbon footprint.
To achieve that, here are some tips that chefs use in their kitchens, which you can implement on your own. You will also gain insights into their practices at hotels, as they work towards reducing the burden on landfills and contributing to a cleaner environment.
Embrace the art of root-to-stem cooking. By exploring the often overlooked parts of fruits and vegetables, such as peels, stems, and tops, we can unlock a world of flavours and minimise waste.
"I believe sustainable cooking goes beyond the conventional tips,” says Sanjay Chauhan, head chef at Avalon Cottages in Kanatal, Uttarakhand. “From turning carrot tops into pesto to transforming citrus peels into zesty infusions, every ingredient holds hidden potential. Let creativity flourish and watch as your sustainable culinary journey reaches new heights."
Head Chef Dharmendra Kumar at Rajasthan-based Brij Lakshman Sagar gives a few more ideas. “Use everything you can. For instance, we use the leaves of cauliflower in soups, orange peels are used to make marmalade, apple peels are turned into roasted chips, and dried seeds of muskmelon, pumpkins are used in Indian gravies while potato skins are used to prepare starters.”
In the kitchens in the Northeast India, sustainable and no-waste cooking has been a practice for centuries, says Tanisha Phanbuh, founder of a Northeastern pop-up kitchen, Tribal Gourmet. Also read: While environmentalists want to reduce air travel, airlines are offering fixed-price subscriptions
“Long before these terms became popular worldwide, nose-to-tail eating has always been a part of our traditions, embraced by many tribes in the Northeast,” says the Northeastern food connoisseur.
She adds, "In my family, we have a practice that my mother taught me, which is buying a whole chicken and then butchering it ourselves. This approach allows us to use every part of the chicken without any waste. We use the skin for its fat or create a delicious dish by combining it with gizzards. The main pieces are set aside for separate meals, and the remaining carcass and feet are boiled to make a flavourful stock that can be used in a variety of dishes, such as risotto, soup, or Asian noodle bowls. This way, every part of the chicken serves a purpose, leaving no waste behind."
In Meghalaya, butcher shops sell every part of culled animals as each one of them offers unique preparations and delicacies, she informs.
“I take great pride in our food habits, culture, and traditions passed down by our forefathers. These practices have inadvertently made us a more sustainable community,” says Phanbuh.
Go local, seasonal, grow your own veggies
Opt for locally-sourced and seasonal produce as much as possible, says Vidushi Sharma, chef, and owner at New Delhi’s Mensho Tokyo.
“This reduces the carbon footprint associated with long-distance transportation. Also, seasonal ingredients tend to be fresher, tastier and more nutritious,” says Sharma.Vidushi Sharma, chef, and owner, Mensho Tokyo, New Delhi
For the same reason, most five-star hotels in the country now have their kitchen gardens. Besides reducing carbon emissions by burning fossil fuels, an in-house garden also helps reduce the use of plastic packaging when ingredients are transported.
Chef Paul Kinny, director of culinary at The St.Regis Mumbai, highlights that growing your own produce not only ensures fresh and high quality food, but also provides a safeguard in case ingredients from outside sources are contaminated or in short supply in certain areas.Pradipta Panda, executive chef at The Postcard Gir Wildlife Sanctuary
“Through our commitment of sourcing all ingredients from our organic kitchen garden and locally as well as diligently practicing regenerative farming techniques, we do our part in protecting and preserving our planet, one plate at a time,” says Pradipta Panda, executive chef at The Postcard Gir Wildlife Sanctuary.Also read: From mattresses to subway seating and cables: The unusual materials making sneakers greener
Another tip Sharma offers is to opt for plant-based meals. “Vegetarian and vegan dishes have a lower environmental impact compared to meat-based ones. Experiment with a variety of legumes, pulses, grains, and vegetables to create nutritious plant-based recipes.”
If growing your vegetables is not an option, Phanbuh says to follow a mindful approach when buying them. She adds, “Even in urban settings with the convenience of refrigeration, our philosophy remains the same—buy only what is necessary. When dealing with greens that spoil quickly, I have my techniques to extend their shelf life. For immediate use, I store them in airtight containers with wet tissue or dry them to use as herbs using the lowest oven temperature to aid in the drying process. This way, I can enjoy their flavours in curries and other dishes even after some time.”
Reduce, reuse, and recycle was, is, and will always be key, even in the kitchen.
Use a plastic-free kitchen, opt for reusable utensils, pick eco-friendly food containers and boxes, and try to convert all green waste to natural manure, says Rahul Bisht, chef at Jhansi-based Ayurveda wellness retreat, Shatam Jeeva.Rahul Bisht, chef at Jhansi-based Ayurveda wellness retreat, Shatam Jeeva
Sustainability is a principle that should be kept in mind even when baking.
Using silicone baking sheets as compared to parchment paper since they can be used multiple times is a tip Pooja Dhingra offers. The founder and CEO of Le15 Patisserie also says using reusable and washable piping bags will go a long way.
Sharma advises on the judicious use of water. “You can reuse the water used to boil pasta to water plants or make soups.”
Some other practices followed by five-star hotels include donating vegetable and fruit waste to animal welfare associations, informs Prashant Suryawanshi, executive chef at Le Meridien Goa, Calangute. His hotel has tied up with Welfare for Animals in Goa which helps injured, abused, and malnourished animals.
At Sri Lanka-based Resplendent Ceylon, they not only send food waste to livestock but also utilise it to produce biogas, which fuels the staff kitchens, informs the managing director Malik Fernando. Also read: A sofa designed to raise awareness about rising sea levels
Hotels are also actively incorporating no bin days to enforce zero wastage of food in the staff cafeteria and it can become a practice that can be adopted at home as well.
"It's not just about creatively using every part of fruits and vegetables in the menu, but also practicing possibilities of recycling, composting, and repurposing," says Varun Madan, founder, and CEO of Salad Days.
Like at many other restaurants and hotels, Madan’s kitchens also compost the remaining food scraps. The compost is then used at their organic farm.
“By composting our food remains, not only do we divert them from ending up in landfills but also harness their potential to create valuable resources. This circular approach allows us to close the loop and complete the sustainable cycle,” he says.
Sri Lanka-based hotel Cape Weligama uses innovative techniques to compost all remaining food waste through a method called effective microorganisms, says Fernando. As a result, this process preserves all the goodness of organic compost without releasing the greenhouse gas, methane, or the unpleasant odour typically associated with composting.
The resultant liquid fertiliser is then used in the gardens and vegetable patches, avoiding chemical fertilisers.
Zero-waste cooking is not just a practice, it's a need of the hour that embraces sustainability and responsible consumption.
“If each of us starts making small and achievable changes in our lifestyles, I believe we can collectively take steps towards greater awareness and actively work towards building a sustainable community. It all begins at home, with small steps leading to a bigger impact,” says Phanbuh.