Leftover Lovers took the idea of 'closed loop' and made it relevant to our kitchen spaces and our modern day food waste dilemma. By definition, a closed-loop system is one in which every component (be it manufacturing, food, or anything else) is recirculated within that same system for as long as possible. The ultimate goal is to reuse, recycle, or biodegrade all materials involved so as to produce zero waste. This process when applied to our kitchens with Leftover Lovers, results in newfound opportunities for gourmet creations, tasty pantry ingredients, and fruitful zero waste food feasts!
Come learn how to pickle, preserve, ferment and infuse with Jessie at the Queen Vic Market in Melbourne.
Journeys into the food-rich wilderness
Destination: Melbourne Gin Company, Gembrook VIC
In a nutshell: A second generation, family-owned vineyard producing an amazing variety of goodies.
Custodian: Andrew Marks (Owner of MGC and Gin Maker)
Field Trip Leader: Jessie Alice for Leftover Lovers
[IMAGE: Andrew Marks (left), chief gin maker at Melbourne Gin Company tours Jessie through his Gembrook farm].
Hi Andrew! Where have you been this morning?
This morning I actually went to the [Queen] Vic[toria] Market and purchased some macadamia nuts for distilling in the production of gin. That’s right: we’re distilling macadamia nuts today! These are raw nuts that’ll be turned into a meal. They blend really quickly so we use a gentle extraction to avoid them being turned into an oil. With macadamias, there’s not a huge amount of waste and one distillation will contribute to quite a few blends of gin.
What flavours do you seek in your wines and gins?
I’m not a massive fan of having ‘big’ flavours in our products. Regardless, we have some favourites. Orris is the root of the Florentine iris flower and it comes to us from Morocco in the form of a dried up powder. They dig it out of the roots, dry it in the sun, then pulverise it to a dust. It’s used in perfume making as a fixative agent, and I kind of like that idea because it means my distilations are essentially designed for perfume making!
My other favourite is sandalwood. It’s so earthy. When you smell gin with sandalwood in it, the scent is quite faint; the sandalwood is there, of course, but you have to “look” for it. I’ve made the gin without this in there and it just doesn’t taste the same. We use a native sandalwood that comes from Western Australia. Some people gasp at that. Many don’t know that sandalwood was a massive export industry for the Western Australian government.
Then there’s the orange and grapefruit. We use the orange peel and the rest of the fruit we turn into juice and drink it on the farm. With the grapefruit, we peel it and I turn the juice into a sugar syrup that we use in cocktails. We’re also the only distillery that I know of that uses honey myrtle. It’s Indigenous to the Western Australian coast line.
To be honest, it’s the combination of all of the ingredients that makes the gin taste great. Everything has its own little role to play. We put a lot of effort into getting the balance right.
I can’t smell what you’re smelling. You have a very fine nose!
I have a very big nose. I’m in the business of smelling stuff!
How do you make gin?
We’re distilling as we speak. There’s a 30-litre copper pot behind us that’s designed for making perfume. Inside, there’s a water jacket around it and that’s providing a constant temperature to what I call “the chamber of secrets” inside. We take what I call a “winemaker approach” to making gin; we take the individually distilled ingredients and build a flavour profile by distilling all year round.
What is your favourite thing to distill?
I love coriander seed because it’s got this mix of ‘dry hay’ smell, and also citrus. It’s quite complex and aromatic. I like the fact that again it’s another crossover with perfume making. I use a body wash from Aesop that has coriander seed in it and I think “how good is this! Can’t complain”.
The worst thing about our waste is that there’s alcohol in there, and that’s creating a bit of carbon. In the grand scheme of things, however, it all evens out. It’s a very low-impact process.
So you’re great at distilling. Do you fancy yourself as a cook?
I do enjoy cooking but I don’t do it as much as I’d like to. Regardless, Tuesday is market day and I really love that. My Dad went to the Queen Victoria Market for fifty years of his life and some of my early memories are of going there with him. He used to go with his Dad too, so we’ve got this long, generational relationship with the market.
My favourite thing to buy is fish. My favourite place to get it from is Prossa’s; the guys in the corner. They’ve got the blue beanies. I love cooking garfish; something simple, easy and delicious.
What’s the best food match for your gin?
I haven’t tried this yet but someone was telling me it’s green olives stuffed with blue cheese. It sounds pretty good. They were American, so they like loud flavours. Like I said: yet to try it.
Tell us about the waste.
Take, for example, two big buckets of coriander seeds collected post-distilling process. It’s like double dunking a tea bag: you can do it, but it doesn’t taste the same. In fact, it completely changes it; you lose freshness and it becomes more tanic. Tannins are the bits in tea that give tea its astringency. That’s not really what we want. I won’t re-distill them, even though they look perfect. There are lots of people, however, who can use them again. We did, for example, give some to a chef. He wanted to use them with salts in his cooking.
There’s always the compost, and boy do we have a great composing system. Animals would be super happy eating most of our waste too. We don’t have any pig farms around here though so we just compost!
How do you propose to ‘close the loop’?
Without overstating the waste, beyond composting there is currently no second life to the processed botanicals, the majority of which have had their flavours further enhanced through the distillation. We’re looking for options!
IMAGE: Coriander seeds gifted to Jessie by MGC’s chief gin maker, Andrew Marks.
As part of these stories being circular, Andrew gifted me a jar of coriander seeds that have been through the distilling process. I borrowed from one of Andrews favourite dishes, fresh fish bought from the Fish Hall at the Queen Vic Market, cooked simply with minimal fuss and served with a glass of gin. Recipes are below. When asked about what it’s like to have a secret recipe that you can’t share, Andrew quips “it’s like having a super power”.
MGC’s recipe for (compost) success:
Organic waste (grape skins, distilled botanicals, other organic matter)
Fresh, young cow turds
Mix everything together, turn it over, and water regularly
When it increased in temperature, you know you’re on the right track!
Given the industry interest in Andrew’s coriander seeds, we’ve included two recipes that pay homage to the humble, distilled coriander seed. They’re intended as a nod to Andrew’s two loves: simplicity and seafood. Enjoy!
Grilled spice-crusted snapper
White chocolate coriander-infused mousse
Journeys into the food-rich wilderness
Destination: Pachamama Wholefoods, Brunswick VIC
In a nutshell: Pachamama is a wholefoods store that combines a zero waste approach with a solid foundation of meaningful community engagement
Custodians: Christopher Anderson and Danielle Dimarti
Field Trip Leader: Jessie Alice for Leftover Lovers
Changing/saving the world from one little shop: Chris (left) and Danielle (right), pictured here with author, Jessie Alice (centre), are the owners of Pachamama Wholefoods, a little shop with a big heart located in Brunswick, Victoria.
Hi there, Chris. Let me ask: how did you get here?
Chris: The journey started when we were living in a share house. We witnessed just how much food was wasted and, to be honest, how disorganised the fridge was. We’d go buy a bunch of stuff, throw it in the fridge, and be running two fridges between six people. You know the feeling of not being sure if it’s your onion, right? So you leave the onion and then the onion sits there, never gets claimed, and goes to waste. That’s when I realised that food waste wasn’t a simple issue; it was a network of complex problems. It’s an information issue, an organisation issue, and a lifestyle issue. We’re even developing an app to help with a solution too! More on that at some point in the near future, we promise.
And how about you, Danielle?
Danielle: I studied International Development and I guess was always interested in how to “fix the world’s problems”. I didn’t know what I wanted to do after university, but then, one day, I realised that food was the answer. If you grow food properly, you can encourage a zero-waste approach that helps people re-attribute value to their food. Since that realisation, it’s been a journey to where we are today with Pachamama. We realised that a shop like this would be an ideal testing platform for our theories and approaches to curbing food waste. We weren’t wrong.
What do you see are key aspects of the relationship between food and food waste?
C: So few people perceive there to be any value in food anymore. We’re trying to change that. It’s not just about coming in and purchasing food to eat; we’re talking about the community vibe where you bring people together, you look at what food’s worth, and what it can do for the community you’re working with. At the moment, because of the widespread devaluation of food, it simply goes in the bin; often, people don’t care what they waste, especially in households on a day-to-day basis.
In a nutshell, the concept of zero waste is important. We advocate for closing the cycle of what we produce and what we eat, and what goes back into the system. At the moment, the system’s just not working and there’s a big gap in the loop. The food just goes and sits in the earth where it doesn’t get used correctly.
D: Food has always been important to us, but the level of importance has increased as we’ve become more consciously aware of what’s happening more broadly. That’s a process that we’ve both been going through in life. We realise the value of everything and how important the thinking behind Pachamama is to the Brunswick community, and potentially to many other communities in Australia, and across the world.
Tell us more about your setup. How do you operate the business?
C: Before we bought the business, we actually shopped here at Pachamama and became interested in what the previous owners were doing with their food waste. They did have a guy that was taking their compost but he stopped… so we started! We bought four massive compost bins and were processing it at our place. The compost even takes human hair now!
D: With the composting side of things up-and-running, we wanted to make a community event of it too; involve kids, involve the community, include education… so we did. Two small families showed up for the first one — it was a start, anyway! We showed them what medicinal properties the plants have, and ran them through the basics of composting and soil education. The workshops are our favourite thing to do. We love getting out there and chatting with our wonderful community of fellow compost lovers!
How do you manage waste at Pachamama these days?
C: When things in the shop spoil and it’s an item that can’t necessarily go in the compost, we tend to give it away so it can be used otherwise. Some people use it as food for their pets, others cook it into a new meal. Bread is the hardest one: if you don’t sell it on the day, you can sell it on the next day but after that it’s done. And often it’s still good; it might just need a new life as a bread and butter pudding! If there’s anything leftover after that, to be honest, we’d just eat it until we were sick rather than throw it in the bin. I actually feel ill when I throw things in the bin; I’m rather my body be the composter than have it sitting in that [the bin]!
Tell us about a big, ambitious goal you have for Pachamama.
D: We want it to change the world. And that’s not even an exaggeration. We want to focus on the community here in Brunswick and really make a big deal of the ‘closed loop system’ so that there’s no food waste at our end, and no food waste in Brunswick’s households. We want to test that approach here, in this context, then take it more broadly. Essentially, we want to create a hyperlocal food system wherein if anything happened outside of Brunswick, our community would still survive. Learning via this approach is the only way to create a sustainable community food system.
Pachamama’s recipe for success:
Journeys into the food-rich wilderness
Destination: Ratio Cocoa Roasters, Brunswick VIC
In a nutshell: A cocoa roastery using traditional chocolate-making techniques to craft individually flavoured, small batch chocolate bars
Custodians: Debb Makin (owner)
Field Trip Leader: Jessie Alice for Leftover Lovers
Deb Makin (left), owner of Ratio Cocoa Roasters, in conversation with Jessie Alice for Leftover Lovers.
[Inset]: Cocoa husks on the Ratio shop counter.
I want to start by mentioning that I read somewhere you were a Zoologist before starting Ratio. Tell me more!
Yes! I’m doing a lecture this Friday called People with Science Degrees That Do Weird Things. The head lecturer came on a tour in here and asked me to come along and present. I’ve lived in small south african villages and have undergone a heap of life changes. I actually did ten years of wedding planning after Zoology — “from gorillas to bridezillas”, so they say. You spend more time at work than anywhere else so you may as well be doing something you like. That’s what I figure.
Where along this incredible journey was your point into chocolate making, then?
My brother is a coffee roaster. Three years ago we saw this trend emerging: every speciality coffee place you went to overseas, they’d have a specialty chocolate to go with it. It’s a real match made in heaven, the one between speciality coffee and speciality chocolate. We thought it was incredibly intriguing.
I then went to Savour Chocolate & Patisserie School with Kirsten Tibballs of MasterChef. Her school is just across the road from the Brunswick store [Ratio]. She’d just started a “Bean to Bar” class on chocolate too. I went and enrolled in that see how complicated it was, and aside from tempering chocolate, it seemed pretty good. It was the beginning of the three year journey. From there it was research, travelling overseas, and visiting Dandelion in San Francisco: they are, hands down, the gurus of the bean to bar chocolate world.
Tell me more about Dandelion.
They were buying beans in the Solomon Islands when I was there, and I got to meet Greg [D’Alesandre] and it was right when we were setting up our factory and our design. We ran our plan past him and a few other chocolate makers who were there at the time. Everyone was very generous with their knowledge and time.
What’s the chocolate making industry like in Melbourne?
We’re ‘speciality coffee’ ten years ago in terms of where we’re at now. It’s quite new to Australia. There are thirty bean to bar makers in Australia, so it’s not a huge industry and it’s not super competitive like others either. Take for example a recent situation wherein another local chocolate maker and I were in the Solomon Islands together. We both bought the exact same beans from the exact same farm, brought them back, and now we both sell a Solomon Islands chocolate bar. And yet, because we undertake the process in a completely different way, the result is two completely different products. We don’t have or need that fierce competition. We share sugar orders, milk powder orders… the industry is pretty nice. Everyone bands together.
Tell us about the design of the business.
The main interest for me in setting up Ratio, besides making good quality chocolate, was the education factor — that is, letting people know that there is a lot of smoke and mirrors in the chocolate industry. We try and demystify things.
One of the reasons it took so long for us to open up was finding the perfect location.
It’s all glass, so there’s nowhere to hide. Everything’s on show, and this is very deliberate: we’re all about traceability and accountability.
We didn’t look at any other options as far as space and size goes. Roasting is a matter of time and love and it usually takes a whole three days to get the [roasted] product. The process is the process, and you can’t change it. It really does inspire you to be organised!
What goes into the making of your chocolate?
We market ourselves as being handmade in Melbourne. It’s exciting, because you can be sure our products have literally been made by hands! From when a bag of beans comes in to when a chocolate bar is completed, it’s a month-long process all up. Even wrapping the bars at the end of the process can be very time consuming. It’s all worth it though. I let the staff choose to work on whatever aspect of the process they enjoy the most.
While we’re uncovering some hidden industry truths, what can you tell us about sugar?
Many people don’t realise that sugar isn’t [always] vegan, let alone vegetarian. True vegans who know the deal and will question what sugar we have. We’ve just applied for our vegan certification so we can add the sticker to our bars.*
How do you develop your chocolate bars?
We mould the chocolate bar and add the ingredients on top. Nuts are super popular. For one of the bars, we chose to use macadamia because we really wanted to do two Australian natives together [the other was lemon myrtle]. We weren’t sure if it was going to work but it’s actually our most popular product!
The cinnamon apple bar was another gamble. You’ve got the sour apple sitting on top of the sweet chocolate and to be honest, many people weren’t too sure about that. Those who love it, love it, and that’s good enough for us! For winter, we’re getting a lot of requests for a chilli chocolate bar so we’ll definitely be doing that too. It feels good to respond so actively to customer interests.
When you design the thing, first you have to decide on the percentage of the chocolate, and then if it’s going to be milk or dark. We spend a lot of time in the taste profiling step of the process and we’re especially looking for consistency in the mouth. For the nut bars, we spent hours deliberating between 15 grams of nuts as opposed to something like 30 grams. We tried 3mm chunks against bigger pieces. The thought process aligned with designing the chocolate bar is exceptionally long, but incredibly satisfying to get right. It’s getting that balance right that’s the most important thing.
Tell us some more about the aesthetic qualities of Ratio HQ.
At its core, I feel that chocolate is a feminine product. I’m also a female business owner. I designed the building with these factors in mind. The colour scheme involves a lot of blue rather than black. It’s also full of curved edges, and and skylights over the communal areas encourage a flood of natural light into the space. The design was created by ST Style in Melbourne whose brief involved straight lines, transparency, and the facilitating of conversation.
What kind of conversations do you have with farmers?
We ensure full transparency when it comes to farming. We tell you where our beans are from as well as the origins of our ingredients. Most people don’t realise that there is no such thing as Belgian chocolate. The ‘Belgian’ bit simply means that this was where the ingredients were put together and the block of chocolate made. It doesn’t tell you that over 70% of the world’s cocoa supply is out of West Africa where child labour is rife. We are staunch advocates of traceability so we can say with pride that we know where the beans are coming from and that the farmers are using ethical practices.
Why is chocolate important to you?
I don’t smoke, drink alcohol, or even drink coffee. Chocolate has always been ‘my thing’ and my entire life. It’s my treat. My life philosophy is ‘keep the number of countries visited higher than your age’. I’ve been to 46 countries and the first thing I do when I arrive is source chocolate. I must have a chocolate supply!
Your only waste is the husks! How are you closing the loop?
The husk is an amazing part of the bean. It accounts for approximately 20–25% of its weight.
We had a couple pick up some cacao husk three months ago to make kombucha. They said that they were going to try and bring some back when they had it but they haven’t come back yet. I have no idea what happened. It could have been a complete disaster!
At the moment we’re also donating to a local school garden and I always offer up the husks to anyone who comes on a tour of the premises; many people love adding them to compost. There’s also a lady that makes her own body products using cacao husk, and I’m in conversations with someone who makes cacao husk tea.
Here’s an excellent one: I’m meeting a brewery tomorrow that’s interested in making a cacao husk beer!
The Ratio recipe for success:
*Editor’s note: although we understand it not to be standard practice in Australia, some white sugars are known to use ground up animal bones.
Chai, Goji & Banana Breakfast Pasta
130g per person Pasta, rice, any cereals or grains
200mls Coconut Cream/Milk, any nut or dairy milks
1 Tablespoon dried berries, goji, raisins, dates, figs
1 banana, ripe works best
2 tsp of Panella sugar, or honey -optional
1 tea bag of chai, or any tea infusions
To Garnish, breakfast crumbs or toasted sweetened nuts
Raisin toast can be toasted and blitzed into crumbs (Especially those end pieces that everyone seems to avoid)
Nuts can be lightly covered with honey and toasted for 5-7minutes in a 180* oven
This recipe is great because you can not only use that leftover coconut milk you only needed a splash of in last nights curry, but also, all that excess rice you cooked. Use up the rest of those pasta shells you have in the jar and add some quinoa to the mix for a complete protein hit! Cinnamon is a spice commonly found in chai tea and is great for regulating blood sugar levels. This is a great comforting winter dish, that feels like a big hug.
Food scraps can make excellent natural dyes, and used across a range of mediums. We were recently experimenting with avocado skins and pips- the results were a beautiful blue-green.
Sustainable Living Festival and The Queen Victorian Market teamed up with Leftover Lovers for this circular economy event.Read More
This was a question we got asked yesterday @southmelbournemarket and wanted to share with everyone! 🌿Vegetable leaves that you can cook with, and probably didn't know:
Banana leaves- excellent for cooking parcels of food in. Brocolli leaves- use as you would broccoli.
Carrot tops- sauteed as a side dish or blitzed into a pesto
Turnip Greens, a slight bitter taste. Great addition to the stock pot!
Radish Tops, this has a peppery rocket taste. Add a little to salad or wilt and use in baked goods.
Fennel- all parts are edible
Grape leaves- steamed, canned, fermented, wrapped as dolmades- these become less palatable as they mature. Try to eat them young.
Beet greens (see our last post for recipe)
Celery Root Tops- use in the same way that you would use celery.
Foraged Greens, these need to be carefully identified and washed thoroughly. They are highly nutritious and can vary in very spicy peppery and sweet flavours:
The above greens can be used in salads, infused in teas, used in juices and smoothies. Or dehydrated to create your own herb blends, or put fresh into tea or made as a tisane.
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[IMAGE: Nigella Lawson]