‘We always cook from fresh’

Because they tend to buy ingredients in bulk, canteens are able to play a key role in making the food chain more climate-friendly. The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) has put together a list of measures canteens could introduce to improve their environmental footprint – and is setting an excellent example with its own staff restaurant.

At 9 am, the first-floor staff restau­rant at FiBL in Frick is rela­tively quiet. A handful of employees are having a coffee break and a sand­wich and enjoy­ing the view of the gree­n­ery outside. Cate­ring mana­ger Martin Künzli and his kitchen crew have alre­ady been at work for two hours and are busy prep­ping lunch. On the menu today: vegan mac and cheese and chicken pie with vege­ta­bles, plus the usual salad buffet. Only orga­nic produce is used, reflec­ting the Institute’s core values. The 200-seater restau­rant reope­ned after an upgrade over two years ago and has since earned a ‘Bio Cuisine’ certi­fi­cate, issued by Bio Suisse since 2023 to iden­tify culinary estab­lish­ments with an orga­nic focus. The restau­rant in Frick was awarded three stars, meaning that 90 per cent of the ingre­di­ents it uses are orga­nic. ‘In reality, we’re comple­tely orga­nic here,’ points out Künzli, who has run the staff restau­rant since it reope­ned. The only excep­ti­ons are the odd spice and vege­ta­bles that are sourced from the Rese­arch Institute’s culti­va­tion trials and are not, ther­e­fore, certified.

Less meat, more plant-based protein

FiBL feels that canteens have a central role to play in the tran­si­tion to more sustainable, more climate-friendly food habits. The fact that they bulk-buy ingre­di­ents gives canteens inte­res­t­ing leverage to promote the produc­tion of more envi­ron­men­tally friendly food, a Rese­arch Insti­tute facts­heet records. The facts­heet includes a range of diffe­rent steps that restau­ra­teurs can take to make their cate­ring opera­ti­ons more sustainable. Examp­les include using fewer foods of animal origin: accor­ding to FiBL calcu­la­ti­ons, substi­tu­ting meat with plant-based sources of protein can reduce the over­all envi­ron­men­tal foot­print of buying food by around a quar­ter. In the Institute’s own staff restau­rant, meat dishes curr­ently make up around 30 per cent of the menu. For envi­ron­men­tal reasons and to keep costs down (orga­nic meat is consider­a­bly more expen­sive than conven­tio­nally farmed meat), the aim is not to exceed this level. The addi­tio­nal expense of orga­nic meat can be offset by offe­ring a high propor­tion of vegan and vege­ta­rian dishes. At the FiBL restau­rant in Frick, which is open to the public, a meat-based lunch costs 16 francs while a vege­ta­rian or vegan option costs 12 francs.

Avoi­ding food waste is also a key factor when it comes to impro­ving the operation’s envi­ron­men­tal foot­print – although, accor­ding to Künzli, the impact of the restau­rant busi­ness here is rela­tively low: ‘Most food waste occurs during produc­tion and in the trade of inter­me­diate goods.’ Nevert­hel­ess, he has intro­du­ced various measu­res to mini­mise the amount of food that is thrown away in his kitchen. The FiBL restau­rant, for exam­ple, serves rela­tively small porti­ons and allows custo­mers to help them­sel­ves to seconds if they want. The restau­rant aims to follow the ‘leaf to root’ approach and use as much of the vege­ta­ble as possi­ble. ‘We use fennel leaves to make pesto, and we process whole beetroot, inclu­ding the skin, to make hummus,’ the restau­rant mana­ger explains. Working with ingre­di­ents that are in season is also, of course, key: toma­toes are only available here in summer.

No ready-made ingredients

One important diffe­rence between this and a conven­tio­nal restau­rant is that the orga­nic kitchen does not use ready-made or semi-prepared ingre­di­ents, as these are rarely orga­nic. As Künzli points out, ‘We always cook from fresh.’ That means more work for the kitchen staff, because they have to start by prepa­ring and chop­ping the carrots and thoroughly washing the pota­toes. Künzli, who is a vegan hims­elf, feels that crea­ti­vity is both the biggest chall­enge and the most rewar­ding aspect of his work. ‘Nowa­days, meat-free cooking offers a whole range of opti­ons to try some­thing new.’ Trai­ned as a chef and in the hotel busi­ness, he enjoys finding inspi­ra­tion on plat­forms such as Insta­gram and YouTube and doesn’t feel at all cons­trai­ned by the strict orga­nic certi­fi­ca­tion. ‘There’s very little nowa­days that isn’t available in an orga­nic version.’ 

FiBL – a foun­da­tion desi­gned to serve orga­nic farming

The private ‘Swiss Foun­da­tion for the Promo­tion of Orga­nic Farming’ was foun­ded on 1 Febru­ary 1973. One year later, the Rese­arch Insti­tute of Orga­nic Agri­cul­ture (FiBL) opened. Today, FiBL Switz­er­land has a work­force of around 300, and the FiBL Group, based in five loca­ti­ons across Europe, has over 400 employees. FiBL is one of the world’s leading rese­arch insti­tu­tes in all aspects of orga­nic agri­cul­ture, inclu­ding soil manage­ment, crop culti­va­tion, animal welfare and orga­nic food proces­sing. The Insti­tute is known for closely combi­ning rese­arch with consul­ta­tion and prac­tice. FiBL Switz­er­land is also invol­ved in nume­rous inter­na­tio­nal rese­arch, consul­ta­tion and trai­ning projects and in deve­lo­p­ment cooperation. 

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