13 July 2022

Sustainability is the secret sauce

Andrew Smith

Eastern Institute of Technology’s (EIT) Professional Chef Tutor Mark Caves has seen enormous changes in the hospitality industry over recent years.

“A few years ago, the main trend in fine dining was about creating the most elaborate meals possible with the most exotic and expensive ingredients. Menus were full of specialty ingredients sourced from around the world, and we’d be showing off our molecular gastronomy skills by using dry ice and all sorts of naturally occurring chemicals to create various effects, like olive oil snow and mojito spheres.

Mark says the industry is now moving towards a more sustainable way of cooking. It is more common to use locally sourced, sustainably produced food, which makes a huge difference to the menu’s carbon footprint.

“It’s been great to see, but the industry still has a long way to go,” says Mark.

Mark traces his interest in sustainability back to his childhood in the Hawkes Bay, and his travels around the world. He was shocked at the increasing amounts of pollution he saw at home and abroad, and he was determined to do something about it.

When Mark became a chef, he realised his own industry was contributing to the problem with unsustainable farming practices and the enormous amount of plastic and food waste it generated.

“It was something I worked really hard at tackling in my own kitchens, and since I began teaching, it’s something I want to get my students excited about as well,” he says.

One of the ways Mark does this in his teaching is through his Locavore Market project, which shows students how to work sustainably from sourcing products to preparing them and selling them to the consumer.

"We go out ‘urban-foraging’ in the neighbourhoods and around the campus, seeing what sort of fruits and vegetables we can harvest naturally. We supplement this with trips to organic farms and biodiverse suppliers and producers. Then we bring everything back to the kitchen and start working on preserving and repurposing the foods before we hold an on-campus market to sell."

Mark sees the project as a valuable way to demonstrate to students just how much you can do with what’s immediately around you.

Study cookery

But the Locavore Market is only one of several projects underway at EIT that Mark hopes will inspire students to think sustainably. In his other role as the campus’s Sustainability Coordinator, Mark is working with other departments to give students a valuable grounding in sustainable practices and design.

“We’re working on an initiative for staff at the campus, where they can get discounts on e-bikes for commuting to and from work. A lot of them are really keen to take up the offer but they’ve also pointed out there’s nowhere secure to store the bikes, which are bulkier than normal bikes and need access to charging stations.

So, Mark is working with design students on a project to create sustainably-built e-bike shelters to keep the bikes secure, out of the weather, and with built-in solar panels for charging. Once the shelters are designed and installed around the campus, Mark is hoping to get the local councils involved in rolling them out around the region.

The Learning in Nature project is another initiative underway in a natural regenerating bush area of the campus. In a gully that leads up to the site of a former pa (a fortified Māori village from the pre-European period), they’re planting several thousand native trees and plants to return the area back to its natural state, and increase local biodiversity.

Mark is excited about how these projects will prepare his students for their future careers, but he’s also mindful of what these projects might mean for the wider community.

"Hawkes Bay as a region has declared a climate emergency and wants to be carbon neutral by 2030. To achieve that, we’re going to have to make our own contributions as individuals and as an institution. If we can get our students engaged in thinking about these challenges now, and contributing to practical solutions, it will benefit everyone."

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About the contributors
Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith is a freelance writer based in Wellington, New Zealand. He spent several years studying English Literature at graduate and postgraduate level in the UK and Australia, before returning home to New Zealand to pursue a career in communications.