The past two years with restrictions on dine-in have got us all rethinking our eating and purchasing options.  Covid has pushed everyone towards mindful eating and chefs are taking a deep dive into what they can offer to cater to this trend.

With an eye on discovering new experiences, today’s consumers are becoming increasingly adventurous with what and how they eat and drink.  Exotic ingredients, bolder flavors, new textures and unique experiences are taking over everything in restaurant meals.

We’re seeing more plant-based dishes on the menu but these are more than veggie options, and are power-packed or infused with a range of flavors to take taste and texture to new heights.  On the tables are new interpretations and ingredients with wide-ranging appeal to dispel the myth that vegan foods are boring and bland.

With the flexitarian trend fast catching on in Asia, meat-free Mondays and pescatarian diets are serious considerations in the kitchen.  For chefs, this means looking past the usual ingredient choices. Alternate elements such as pulses, seeds, vegetable oils and flours add that extra healthy dimension to please the palate.  Substituting olive oil with avocado oil for pan-fry, or using chickpea flour to make pancakes that go with salad and chutney with punchy flavors of Indian spices (thanks Jamie Oliver!) are great examples that will take your tastebuds on a tantalising journey.

Texture is another way chefs are adding wider appeal to plant-based dishes. Toasted seeds and grains such as quinoa, amaranth, and pepita (sunflower seed) bring out the extra crunch in simple dishes.

From zero to hero

For a growing number of restaurant operators and diners, our throwaway culture is no longer acceptable. The growing landscape of zero-waste dining and zero-waste restaurant logistics is now a reality.

Kausmo Restaurant in Singapore operates on the intent “to promote thoughtful living by challenging food norms that bring about unnecessary wastage.” This means using aesthetically filtered fruits and vegetables (odd-shaped, overstocked or over-ripened), native plants, sustainably sourced seafood and secondary cuts of meat.  Since the restaurant relies on seasonal products, there is no fixed menu. But its six-course meal offers a few recurring dishes like the Confit Hojicha Duck served with black plum and local sorrel leaves, and Chef Lisa Tang’s Wild Fish Congee using wild-caught golden trevally that pays homage to her Teochew heritage.

At Kausmo, over-ripened food is repurposed to eliminate waste. (Photo: Solitaire)

Ijen Seafood Restaurant in Bali is Indonesia’s first-ever zero-waste restaurant that is constructed almost entirely from scrap materials – furniture is crafted from foam offcuts and recycled wood, while the terrazzo-style floor is speckled with broken glass and plates. Candles are made from leftover vegetable oil, and drinking glasses are made from old beer bottles.

The Terrazzo-style floor at Ijen is speckled with broken glass and plates. (Photo: Eat Cook Dine)

In Hong Kong, John Anthony’s cocktail menu keeps waste to a minimum, with fruit husks repurposed as garnishes and leftover lemons used to make liqueur. The decor is eco-friendly.  Menus and candle holders are made from upcycled paper and plastic, while chairs and tables are locally produced to reduce its carbon footprint. To practise what they preach, even staff uniforms are fashioned from recycled fabrics.

At John Anthony’s, discarded fruit husks and leftover lemons are used to make liquer. (Photo: Time Out)

Tucked in the foothills of Adelaide Hills in Australia, Topiary’s commitment to sustainability starts from the ground up. At the family-run restaurant, every scrap of food is deliberately selected and prepared from root to leaf, and nose to tail. The use of century-old techniques of culturing, churning, curing and smoking fit seamlessly with a menu that incorporates foraged edible weeds like nasturtium, wood sorrel and wild fennel. Whatever is available to be picked from surrounding gardens is sourced locally, in keeping with their philosophy of minimizing waste.

The relationship between food and society is one of the oldest, and chefs are often at the heart of it. With food being part of everyone’s daily life, chefs and food enthusiasts can impart crucial knowledge to their customers, by providing information about sustainable choices, and inspiring us to believe that sustainable eating contributes to a healthier environment.