PLEASE EXPLAIN TO US WHAT THE RESTAURANT NOLLA IS ALL ABOUT.Nolla opened in February 2018. It is the first zero-waste restaurant in the Nordic countries and one of the first ones around the world. We are three chefs with a strong vision to change the way the restaurant industry works nowadays. Nolla looks like a normal restaurant, but everything that happens behind the scenes is actually pretty far from normal.
YOU ARE FROM SPAIN ORIGINALLY. HOW DID YOU END UP AS A CHEF IN HELSINKI?I actually studied biology but I never got my degree. I left after one year and started cooking. I was lucky enough to intern for a really good chef in Barcelona – that's how I learned cooking. Then, I was offered a job at a restaurant in Helsinki. I just wanted to move there for a while to see how people were working up there and to see what this "Nordic cooking" was, everyone was talking about.
NOLLA IS PROJECT OF THREE PEOPLE. HOW DID YOU MEET THE OTHER FOUNDERS?Carlos is from Portugal, Luca is born in Serbia, but we all met in Helsinki.
It’s not just about food, there is so much more in a restaurant that is thrown away, like the packaging. We are so used to it, it feels like it needs to be there for a reason no one can explain. In 2015, the three of us started talking about opening a restaurant. First, the whole zero waste thing was a bit abstract, but it felt like the natural way of moving forward.We were three chefs that never had our own business before, so we started this project in 2016 by doing a lot of research. Then we did a couple of pop-ups to try out if it was possible at all. When you only have a theoretical approach, you have no idea if this is really thesable and if people would understand what we are doing.
HOW DO YOU MANAGE TO REDUCE THE WASTE AT NOLLA?It’s very simple: Nolla is a restaurant without a trash bin. You cannot find any plastic here. Everything has been thought through: From staff clothing which is old hospital textiles, to napkins that are made of recycled plastic bottles, to glasses made from water bottles collected from the Finnish presidential palace.
We use 99.9% local products and work close with our producers – they are like family to us. We have created a box system for vegetables, fish and meat with them. The boxes go back and forth.
I always put up following example: You have one cucumber that comes in a vacuum bag that is put inside a plastic bag that is put inside a plastic tray that they put inside a trolley that is wrapped in a clean film. All this packaging for one cucumber – for me, that just shows that we need to rethink.
Regarding the leftovers, what actually do we mean by leftover? In the kitchen, there are a lot of by-products that we wrongly label as leftovers. One of our goals is try to rethink all the possibilities that those can bring in the kitchen. At the moment we are curing, pickling, fermenting, drying and using in different elaborations all these “leftovers” to reduce the parts that can’t be used.
DURING YOUR RESEARCH, WHAT MADE YOU THINK, ‘WOW, THIS IS POSSIBLE? WHY IS THIS NOT COMMONLY KNOWN AND DONE?’I think that one of the greatest surprises has been the composter. We were struggling to figure out what to do with all the bits of ingredients we couldn’t use or the food that customers left on their plates. The idea of composting was clear, but we couldn't just build a compost pile on the street or expect our producers to pick up our bio-waste every day to compost it on their farms. After a little research, we found composters that speed up the composting process and in 24 hours turns waste into fertilizer that we give back to the producers.
The technology is great; it works perfectly without producing any smell or any side effects to our operations. It’s available to everyone, and it’s an investment that pays back really quickly. If a restaurant like Nolla can afford it from the beginning, every business can.
AN AVERAGE RESTAURANT PRODUCES 70,000KG WASTE EACH YEAR. HOW MUCH WASTE DID YOU PRODUCE IN 2018? Nolla is not down to complete zero with waste, but we are getting closer. When we closed our first location, we were producing approximately 5 kilos of non-compostable waste per week, whereas an average restaurant makes hundreds of kilos, even tons of waste a week.
AND HOW DO YOU MANAGE WASTE IN YOUR PRIVATE LIFE? It wouldn’t make any sense to have a zero-waste restaurant but act the opposite in my personal life. But I would be lying if I said that I am as close as zero in my private life. However, simple gestures have become normal for me.
Plan a little ahead, so the food doesn’t need to rod in your fridge. Try to use as much as you can of the things you bought. You can even do beautiful things with carrot leaves and it’s even possible to eat the peels. – be a little creative!
WHAT ARE YOUR SUPERIOR GOALS BESIDES AVOIDING GARBAGE?We want to spread the word! As an individual, you can’t change that much. So, what we are trying at Nolla is to create a business model and show that it works and that everyone can adapt to it – there is no reason not to work more sustainable! We hope that in the future people talk about Nolla just as a restaurant. Hopefully the waste-free practices will become so ordinary that they doesn’t have to be pointed out.
APART FROM NOLLA, WHAT ARE YOUR HOTSPOTS IN HELSINKI YOU CAN RECOMMEND TO OUR CUSTOMERS?I think Helsinki is a great spot to enjoy outdoors. It’s a small city with a lot of green, so it’s nice to explore the parks, go to the sea shore, just walk around and grab a coffee in a reusable cup – single use cups are the devil! I also love going to the market at Hakaniemi square, which is especially beautiful in summer or autumn. There are a lot of shops with original Finnish products and it’s really lively.
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