Of all the industries that could use a green overhaul, catering is up there. Most catering involves a ridiculous amount of single-use plastics, way too much packaging and lots of meat and seafood heavy menus. Not to mention the waste! British-born chef Tom Burney, a Hong Kong based personal chef and founder of catering company Invisible Kitchen, wants to change that. He is looking to lead the way in showing the rest of the food industry that catering can be sustainable, low waste and embrace the plant-based movement sweeping our city (and the rest of the world!). A few weeks ago, he invited Green Queen to visit their warehouse in Chai Wan to have a look and taste our way through their Conscious Canapes menu and learn more about their many sustainability initiatives.
Hailed as Hong Kong’s top eco-friendly catering company, Invisible Kitchen has long championed that a healthy environment is essential to healthy living. Leading the charge with his Michelin-starred background, the practice of sustainability had been ingrained in Chef Tom Burney since his early days of running a kitchen. “Our local fishmonger in Manchester was the first to be 100% sustainable back in my first head chef job around 2003,” recalls the celebrity personal chef to Hollywood’s elite like Lady Gaga, Chris Hemsworth and Karen Mok. “That was where I first got involved with sustainable [supply chains] and it evolved from there.” As environmental awareness grows, the catering company is flexing its green credentials by unveiling three new sustainable initiatives with a mission to serve food with a conscience all while healing our planet.
Conscious Canapés: Vegan, Locally Grown & Zero Waste’
While it can be challenging to find a restaurant that can serve a group with many varying dietary needs where no one will feel alienated, grossed out, or starving by the end of the meal, Invisible Kitchen has thoughtfully crafted a vegan canapés menu that could satisfy all palates with a commitment to use locally grown produce and use up ingredients that would otherwise go to waste in creative ways.
For instance, the Smoked Tomato Tartare Toasts, topped with freshly picked young pea shoots from their own homegrown warehouse garden, had an impressive flavour profile that was full of depth and intensity. Smoked and then dehydrated, the tomatoes tasted like smokey chunks of traditional minced tartare – you don’t miss the meat.
Another winner is the Zero Waste Pineapple Phyllo Tartelets. Burney makes uses of the unused pineapple cores to make jam, which he tops with vegan cheese slices: “I use pineapples elsewhere in our menu and I have these leftover cores, and they are high in pectin so it’s a natural fit to make jam with,” he explains. It’s a fun take on a cheeseboard.
Burney is enjoying exploring the new plant-based meat alternatives on the market. He has created a traditional English Beef Wellington made with Hong Kong favourite Beyond Buger from Beyond Meat as well as a plant-based interpretation of the beloved Scotch Eggs. Made using JUST Egg scramble (the mung bean phenom that arrived in Hong Kong earlier this year) atop plant-based pork Omnipork coated in breads crumbs and deep-fried. We found the vegan version to be almost indistinguishable from the gastropub staple.
The Road To Sustainability Starts With Water
Having sourced game and seafood responsibly for the past 15 years, the UK-bred, French-trained Burney continued looking around for a more systematic way to bring about change in his kitchen. He realised that with a little initial investment, water would be an easy area in which to effect change. Burney and his team now produce their own filtered still and sparkling water for catering events using a state-of-the-art 3-stage filtration process (which filters impurities without removing beneficial minerals), a Food and Beverage grade CO2 is then used to carbonate the water in big torpedo kegs (the kind used in micro brewing craft beer). But the magic really lies in their secret ingredient of utilising the Butterfly Pea Flower, a herbal caffeine-free ingredient that turns still water into a stunning electric blue hue. When you add lemon, the pH level changes, transforming the liquid into shades of pinkish-purple for fun cocktail events! Both still and sparkling water are bottled in clear Grolsch-style Flip Top Bottles to cut back on single-use plastic and also reduces the price of water for events. Good for the Earth and our wallets!
The Power Of Local Produce
Sourcing all their fruits and vegetables from nearby farms where possible, the staff has a close relationship with organic farms in Yuen Long and Southern China to work with the best local, seasonal produce. They also grow many of their own herbs and microgreens organically in their Chai Wan warehouse adjacent to the kitchen where we saw chefs coming in and out to snip whatever they need. Currently looking after mint, basil, lemon thyme, rosemary, shiso, micro coriander, mustard cress, pea shoots, chilli peppers and five different types of cherry tomatoes varieties, it was a welcome sight to see clean and local agriculture being nourished right under our noses.
A Commitment To Going Zero Waste
It’s no longer acceptable for businesses to ignore where their waste goes. Putting the planet first, all “disposable” cutlery provided by Invisible Kitchen are 100% compostable, made from sugarcane remains or PLA bioplastic, where they can break down into natural elements. In addition to being a straw-less operation, all food deliveries are packed in large cooler bags and reused many times over. Taking drastic measures to cut single-use plastic from their kitchen operations, the five-year-old company is continually looking out for better solutions. Embracing the zero waste ‘nose to tail’ philosophy, the Invisible Kitchen also tackles Hong Kong’s food waste issue by working alongside local food assistance charities to donate the extraneous trimmings they generate from their catering menus.
Burney believes sustainability is not just about the the products you use, it’s also about the culture you spread and the practices you take home at the end of the day. Burney and his team demonstrate a commitment to both the earth and our community – one that is sure to make Invisible Kitchen the go-to catering for both food lovers and advocates of the green movement. #PlanetBeforeProfit, and a whole lotta deliciousness in between. We’re onboard.
Invisible Kitchen offers Halal, Kosher, gluten-free, dairy-free, alcohol-free, and vegan friendly catering menus. Contact Chef Burney at +852 2711 5788 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
All images courtesy of Green Queen.