Peggy Chan is not your average Chef, and not your average restaurateur. Not only is she one of Hong Kong’s (Asia’s) few award-winning female chefs, she runs the city’s most visible plant-based restaurant. Ask any visiting vegan where they go to get their herbivore fix and the answer is Grassroots Pantry ten times out of ten. Chan is also an undisputed pioneer. When she opened Grassroots Pantry in Sai Ying Pun in 2011, Chan essentially single-handedly birthed Hong Kong’s high-end vegetarian cuisine scene.
Seven years on, she continues to raise the bar on herself and push the limits of what it means to be a sustainable chef. Coinciding with the launch of Grassroots Pantry’s fall tasting menu (Chan creates new tasting menus on the regular and adds new a la carte dishes every season, no mean feat in and of itself), Chan challenged herself to be environmentally accountable to her public. For the first time, she and her team have released the Grassroots Pantry Sustainability Report, which Chan has committed to putting out annually.
Working with ZeroFoodprint and 3Degrees out of San Francisco and HK Recycles locally, the Grassroots team was able to aggregate and analyse waste, recycling and sourcing data to compile a complete picture of the restaurant’s carbon footprint. Below we highlight some of Grassroots’ wins over the past year:
- Because of their overall efforts, the restaurant has managed to avoid 7 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) over one year. For comparison, that’s the equivalent to driving an average car for over 25,000 kilometres!
- Thanks to a 98% vegan menu, carbon emissions per customer are 65% lower at Grassroots Pantry than at peer mid- to high-end restaurants surveyed.
- A newly introduced 3% Carbon Tax in lieu of the prior 10% Service Charge looks to support individuals, organic producers, researchers, NGOs and social enterprises that Grassroots Pantry works with. The restaurant also practices a ‘No Single-Use-Plastics’ policy with incentive for takeaway customers: if they bring their own container, the Carbon Tax will be waived.
- Over 97% of food in Hong Kong is imported- a great deal by air, which means a large carbon footprint – Grassroots Pantry has committed to sourcing directly from farms in Hong Kong and China since day one, resulting in a big reduction in transport emissions.
Sustainably-sourced coffee, chocolate and rice cause a huge toll on a restaurant’s greenhouse gas emissions because of their high-impact production processes. Grassroots Pantry is committed to only working with the most eco-friendly suppliers and demands a high degree of transparency and traceability from them.
On the food waste front, the restaurant’s responsible practices mean they are able to divert 8 tonnes of food a year from Hong Kong landfills. Grassroots was the first restaurant in Hong Kong to install an Orca food waste digester- the machine turns food waste into liquid thanks to micro-organisms and is able to digest 110kg of food a day. The restaurant has become an Orca ambassador of sorts and served as a ‘showroom’ for potential Orca clients- they receive over 10 visits a month from interested parties. Furthering their food waste activism, Grassroots is a co-leader of the Zero Waste Alliance, a group of committed restaurateurs looking to improve waste management and create best practice sustainability standards among the Hong Kong F&B community. Joel Tomas, Grassroots’ Operations Manager, insists their food waste philosophy is more than just landfill diversion, it also helps reduce food costs: “We use all/leftover parts of our produce. For example, we do all our own cold-pressed juicing. With the leftover pulp from the beetroot, we make raw beetroot truffles; the carrot pulp goes into our pan-fried gyoza and we also make our own almond milk, with the pulp making up many of our dessert bases.”
Grassroots Pantry views recycling as a practice of “last resort.” Nevertheless, the restaurant recycled 145 kg of paper, 115 kg of metal, 192 kg of plastic and 5,400 kg of glass- thereby avoiding 3 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.
Beyond the report, Chan also spends her almost non-existent free time to inspire Hong Kong’s youth: she is constantly doing outreach talks at schools and colleges to tell her story and raise awareness about the importance of sustainable food systems. Even more surprising, the students come to them: Grassroots hosts regular school visits. This month alone, they had 7 different school classes come in to learn about plant-based dining and sustainable F&B practices. “By focusing on the next generation, we hope they can educate their parents to become more conscious consumers and recyclers,” explains Tomas.
Chan is also keen on creating impact among her peers within the F&B industry. Since 2016, she has hosted the Collective Table, a series of collaborative pop ups that challenge chefs from around the world (including Michelin veterans like Richard Ekkebus) to work with her team to create a tasting menu using only nuts, seeds, superfoods, fruits and vegetables. According to Chan, “the awareness and interest within the cheffing industry to cook more vegetable-based dishes has grown tenfold in the last 6 years.” The 10th iteration is happening November 14th with Vietnamese Chef Peter Franklin.
No doubt, Chan is a force of nature and once again, she has elevated the industry standards for what it means to be accountable. In her own words: “We work to apply Ethical Business Practices with everything we do, whether towards our customers, our suppliers, our shareholders, colleagues of the trade, or our employees. Although difficult to measure, acting with integrity and fairness towards all stakeholders is what sustains a business long term.” #WhatSheSaid. Go Peggy!
All pictures courtesy of Grassroots Pantry.