From Farm to Table: The Trials, Tribulations, and Triumphs of Sustainable Sourcing

By Enda McEvoy posted 26-10-2017 12:05



I started cooking in Germany when I was 17. The way Germany approaches the economics of kitchen waste and recycling was way ahead of any other country. Every bit of waste was recycled or sorted in some way. A sustainable restaurant always made sense to me, but there was one turning point a few years back that solidified my mentality. A big volcanic eruption in Iceland disrupted the industry – ash-covered crops and caused some to fail, while planes were temporarily halted and importing ingredients became impossible. Up until then, we had been mindlessly importing things, purchasing ingredients from wholesale suppliers and a few local farmers. The eruption forced me to think about how fragile the food industry is, and I didn’t want to be in that desperate situation again, so we began our transition to entirely local ingredients.

All the food served at Loam comes from the west of Ireland, but don’t think that means the menu is limited. We make up for those products not available locally – like olive oil and citrus fruits – by using local products such as rapeseed oil, wild garlic, sea vegetables, and elderflower. All food comes from the earth, everything you buy came from the wild originally, they are just domesticated varieties, the ingredients we use are just the same but in their wild form, for example - sea vegetables are just wild vegetables. They have seasons, growing patterns, and experience failures. My interest in plants comes from my father and brother who are both horticulturalists, and this now impacts the cooking at Loam.

The chefs here adapt to the somewhat more limited array of ingredients by drawing various different flavours from a single ingredient. Bits of fish or meat that some people would throw out, for example, we use to make sauces and stocks. We use pickling and fermenting techniques to preserve the excess ingredients from the summer, which gives the food a more acidic bite. Our menu changes depending on what’s available, so every day in the kitchen is different. By limiting the amount of ingredients, we at Loam are forced to be more creative with our menu and have more respect for the food. When we grow something from start to finish, there’s more value in it – it means more to you. 

I don’t think of this as a challenge; it’s my day-to-day work. All the staff here cares about the effort we’re making; we work smartly and efficiently and try to keep ourselves in check. Maintaining a sustainable restaurant using local ingredients isn’t an inconvenience – it’s just what we do. We have to adapt according to the seasons, the weather, and more, of course. Sometimes the weather will destroy a crop. Just this year, a supplier I’ve worked with for years rang me to say clover had invaded the pumpkin crop, they were no longer able to grow properly and now we have no pumpkins. When we buy into these local farmers and suppliers, we buy into the failures too. Other times, however, we have too many ingredients! Using only local products can sometimes pose difficulties, but I don’t consider it a burden. If I did, I wouldn’t be happy going to work. When we decide to support local farmers, it means supporting them from start to finish, throughout the year, the same way a restaurant needs consistent support from its customers.

I’ve been lucky in pursuing local product – many of the people who are now my suppliers are old friends. Others I’ve met more recently and started relationships with. It’s important to me that I hit it off with people. Though the general goal of any business is to make profit so the business can be sustained, a relationship needs to be based on more than just the main goal of making money. My suppliers and I aren’t just connected by business ventures – we share an ideal about the bigger picture and want to create a better, more natural and nourished culinary world.

There is an alarming amount of waste created and disposed of in the food industry. We can tackle this by buying smarter ingredients, re-using and recycling materials whenever possible, and by teaching our staff to understand the importance of a sustainable kitchen. We need to take responsibility for our extravagant ways. And we can’t stop with just recycling, that day is gone – there needs to be pressure on all people to do this. The Sustainable Restaurant Awards forced us to look at all aspects of the restaurant operation, from how much power we were using, what impact we had on the community, how we treat our staff, and how much waste water we produced. Climate change is real and it needs to be addressed on a bigger scale by companies by implementing environmentally friendly practices until reusing and recycling becomes second nature. Now is the time to take responsibility for our impact on the earth.

At Loam, we follow our food’s journey from farm to plate. When you grow something from start to finish, there’s more value in it. So to other chefs wanting to make their kitchens more sustainable, my advice is to go all in – commit to it. Get to know your suppliers, learn how they work, and what challenges they face. Discover how you can work together. You can’t back every supplier – but support those you do work with. Build relationships, help your community, and you’ll see - it’s a quite rewarding way to work.


@Enda McEvoy is the Head Chef at 3-time Michelin star winning restaurant Loam. Last year, Enda was named ‘Best Chef in Ireland’ at the 2016 Irish Restaurant awards and just recently his effort at Loam has earned it the highest rating of 3-stars from the Sustainable Restaurant Association, making his the first restaurant in Ireland to do so. The restaurant works closely with local farmers and producers to serve delicious food sourced entirely from the west of Ireland.


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