How one Hilton chef pushes sustainability

Hilton London Bankside chef Ollie Couillard has been practicing sustainability within his kitchen for many years. He has 25 years of experience within the hospitality industry, including at Michelin Star restaurants La Trompette and The Square in Mayfair and luxury hotels, The Dorchester and The Grosvenor House.

During his career, Couillard opened five restaurants, creating the concepts and menus for each one. His recent concept incorporates homegrown vegetables and herbs from the hotels’ rooftop garden. The outside kitchen which recently opened, houses homegrown fresh produce such as tomatoes, beetroot, broad beans, peppers and courgettes. In a bid to tackle the group’s own waste, the garden produce will be used in multi-functional ways throughout both the food and beverage offerings.

Did the pandemic accelerate the hotel’s sustainability plans?

The garden was something that had always been in the pipeline for the hotel, yet never had a significant time period to expand it further, he explains. Couillard notes that whilst the garden hadn’t been developed, he did grow some herbs and a few things in the restaurant, “so it’s always part of what we do”.

During the pandemic, Couillard recalls that the hotel engineers had additional time to spend on building up the garden, creating the boxes to plant the vegetables in as well as maintain the area. When asked if the restaurant has always focused on sustainability, Couillard says: “When you train as a chef, one of the most important things you get trained on is how to not waste food and try to reuse everything. If you’re a restaurant and you waste food then you’re not a good restaurant.”

He admits that whilst the hotel is “doing its part” there are other places “that do it better than others,” but trying to reuse food, trying to use local suppliers “has always been an important part of what we do”.

Impact on customers

Customers appreciate the green initiative. Couillard states, “I think it’s a nice thing to do”. From the garden, everything that can be harvested, no matter how little, it is then incorporated in some format. “We try and use whatever we can, sometimes it’s a couple of tomatoes or six beetroot or a couple of bunches of coriander, it’s not much,” he adds.

Despite wanting to, Couillard explains that due to the sometimes small amount produced by the garden, a separate menu item “can’t be created right now”. However, if at one point there is enough fresh produce to make 12 dishes then it could be sold in the restaurant, he says.

Currently everything is constantly used and cooked quickly for customers on a “first come first serve basis”. On top of the vegetables and herbs, the hotel has been producing honey for many years now. “We have four bee hives, twice a year we get a massive amount of honey which is always on the menu whether we do a starter, main course, dessert or cocktails,” he concludes.

Despite seeing popularity in the hotel’s restaurant rise, Couillard says the prices will still remain the same, adding that “this is a labour of love more than anything and not something we want to charge”.

What are the other ways the hotel is tackling food waste?

On top of the garden kitchen, the hotel has also been tackling sustainability through other initiatives. One of them includes recycling the coffee from its machines by using a company that turns it into fire logs that can be reused throughout the hotel. Furthermore, all the food waste from the kitchens gets sent to a company that turns it into compost, which in-turn is used in the garden. “We also try to reuse as much as possible, whatever trims we get from offcuts we always try to incorporate in our dishes,” he adds.

Understandably, Couillard argues that “you can never cut waste by 100%, but it’s about trying to manage it and then reduce it whenever you can”. He explains that when it comes to sustainability, a lot of it is about teaching the staff and training them so that the message of “waste less” gets passed on. For example, in terms of trimmings, Couillard says that a carrot peel which would ordinarily for many people be thrown in the bin, would instead be turned into something else such as a salad, soup, stock. “We don’t like throwing it away unless we have to,” he adds.

Will this sustainability initiative be rolled out across the Hilton group?

Due to the hotel being a franchised Hilton, rather than part of the group’s owned hotels, he explains that everything can be done internally whilst still paying homage to the company’s own goals and plans. The goals include focusing on reducing food waste sent to landfills by 50% in its managed operations.

For the hotel, Couillard says that the changes made to the hotel here are “mainly what we put into it and how we input it here, we’re not doing this because of Hilton specifically”.

Why do you think that sustainability is so important?

Thinking more about the overall impact of being a sustainable hotel, Couillard passionately says that “people who don’t think it’s important have just a rubbish way of thinking”, adding that it’s become one of the most important things in recent years.

“There’s people starving in the world, when I see people wasting food it really upsets me, it’s very selfish. It doesn’t take much to come up with ways of reusing,” he says. “A lot of it is laziness, people can easily reuse food but everyone makes it easy to waste food, that’s the problem. People need to rebel against it so that it wouldn’t take much of an effort to make things better,” he concludes.

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