3 questions for …
Sophia Hoffmann, Organic and vegan cook, author and restaurateur
“We need to ease people’s fear of contact with organic products, and challenge narratives that treat them as elitist and negative.”
1. Your restaurant HAPPA embodies the waste avoidance principle from A to Z. What things that people might consider food leftovers do you reuse, and how?
We start saving food right at the moment we buy it. We get about 80% of our vegetables from Querfeld, an organic supplier who sells what they call “culinary misfits” – food with defects like being too big or too small, blemishes on the peel, but also surplus goods. Normally these products wouldn’t make it onto somebody’s plate. Yet their flavour is excellent and their “defects” make no difference to us when we cook with them. On top of that, we get refrigerated and dried products like tofu and coconut milk from Veggie Specials, which offers surplus production or seasonal goods, with organic quality, at economical prices. We have a cooperative arrangement with Biocompany – we use their day-old bread in our cooking. But of course “Leaf to Root” also plays a major role – we cook with vegetable leaves, we make our own fermented products from things like watermelon rinds, and we make seasonings and flavouring pastes from vegetable parings.
2. Where did you get your knowledge about these things? And how do you pass it on?
I had the great good fortune and privilege that my family socialised me from an early age to value food and learn food skills. It wasn’t until I was working as a cook and cookbook author that I realised a lot of people don’t have that knowledge. That was my motivation to start my educational work. On top of that, for almost 10 years I’ve been focussing on “Leaf to Root”, and I did a great deal of research on that, including in connection with the publication of my book, “Zero Waste Küche” (2019/ ZS Verlag).
I also offer consulting in this field, and working with the Vegan Masterclass platform I conceived an online cooking course on the subject – which is definitely also meant for professionals. Kantine Zukunft – the “Canteen of the Future” organisation in Berlin – is doing important work on institutional catering. They too are focusing a lot on increasing the percentage of organic and plant-based dishes. Holistic processing is certainly also a factor.
3. What will be needed to raise awareness of organic products in the catering industry generally, and to get the topic more widely known?
Working in the restaurant business, I constantly encounter people who are very much against the whole idea of “organic”. We need to challenge how it comes about that so many people perceive the topic as elitist and negative. My feeling is that there are a lot of business and interest associations that are encouraging that narrative, and something has to be done about it in the form of educational work and positive promotions to ease people’s fear of contact. Biodiversity, less pesticide use, regenerative agriculture, and climate adaptation as part of organic farming are essential to ensure we have a secure food supply now and in the future.