Sustainability Series Part 2: Waste No Food

Olio at Tante Marie

Waste Not Want Not: Reducing Food Waste with Olio

Welcome to the first in our Sustainability Series of blog posts.

This article is part of our ongoing series about how Tante Marie Culinary Academy leads the way as a truly sustainable food business, resulting in our 3 star rating from the Sustainable Restaurant Association and recent nomination for the Sustainability Award at the Toast of Surrey Business Awards in 2018.

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Sustainability Focus: Waste No Food

One can only imagine just how much food can be produced by 60 chefs, even if they are in training: it is a harsh reality that each day at Tante Marie, 60 students preparing a three course meal every morning, and sitting down for lunch, and then back into the kitchens for another class in the afternoon, (albeit baking cakes and bread or marinating meat for the next day) produces an astonishing volume of food… and that doesn’t even take into account the food we produce in our cookery demonstrations: many recipes the students cook in class, they see cooked by our staff first. We make a lot of food, and it’s really good stuff: we are not talking about a leftover turnip or two… lunchtime at Tante Marie is a magnificent affair.

Lunchtime at Tante Marie
Lunchtime at Tante Marie Culinary Academy beats most office lunches!

So just how much of this do we actually waste?

Being a student at Tante Marie is hard work. It is a long day on your feet, so it is no surprise that our students also eat a vast amount of the delicious food they have produced. The only reason they are not all the size of houses is because they work hard. Seriously hard.

However, with the best will in the world it is inevitable that we are producing more food than we are capable of consuming. We are, after all, a learning environment and our students cannot learn by pretending to cook; they have to actually do it. But our students cannot take everything they cook home. In actual fact very often it is unrealistic for them to do so and as any chef will tell you, when you’ve been looking at it all day, the last thing you want to do is eat it.

Woking Borough Council leads the way in the UK for recycling. In fact, many other local authorities around the UK send the recyclable waste to Woking for processing. Several years ago Woking Borough Council asked us if we would like to be included in their school’s food waste composting collections. We actually waste very little food since a fundamental part of what we teach is of course how to cook properly, including how to minimise waste. Anything that can be used, is.

However, it is inevitable that with 60 students in the school, we will generate compostable waste, so we accepted this offer. There have been times that we have found ourselves with perfectly good leftovers without a home to go to, and in our quest to use them responsibly (and through our SRA connections) we discovered OLIO.

OLIO connects people within a neighbourhood with each other and with local businesses so that surplus food can be shared, not thrown away. A glance at the OLIO app in and around this part of Surrey showcases some really interesting and slightly random products, from a bottle of sweet chilli sauce in Fleet, to a couple of leeks along the Hog’s Back, to a croquembouche in Woking!

After lunch each day our staff gather up all of the food left over from that morning‘s class. (With six or seven people around the table, it only takes a few minutes to separate out the items which we can retain and freeze for future use or keep for staff meals for the following day). Whatever is left goes to OLIO. We write a short description and send details of the ingredients in each dish to our Olio volunteer Maxine.

Roughly an hour later, Maxine, comes to collect it and posts the details on the app. She is fantastic at redistributing the food between various locations and by the end of the day, the Sacher torte is delivered to a food bank in Woking, the Provençale chicken is at a local homeless shelter and the leftover bunch of parsley is being chopped into a stew for a local dinner party.

Olio collection
Maxine from Olio, collecting the day’s food to be distributed

OLIO is one small component of our overall sustainability policy: it is 1%, which added into the 1% difference we make by sourcing sustainable prawns and the 1% difference we make by using ecological floor cleaner, the 1% difference we make by having lights which switch off automatically if no movement is detected and the 1% difference we make by telling people about these policies, adds up to a 5% difference: let’s call it a 5% improvement to our business, or a 5% difference to a homeless person’s day.


Visit the Olio website here

Visit the Sustainable Restaurant Association Website here

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