Matt Stone: Master Chef of Sustainability

By Jamie Joseph

"If it can't be sourced locally, it's not on the menu." Australian celebrity chef Matt Stone is shaking up the hospitality industry with sustainable methods and ingredients.

Matt Stone. Photo / Supplied
Matt Stone. Photo / Supplied

One of Matt Stone's favourite TED talks is by Sir Ken Robinson ("school is killing creativity") and so it's not surprising Australia's hottest young chef has been working in the industry since he was just 15.

Stone will be turning up the heat at TEDxAuckland this weekend, and armed with pioneering experience and a bold sense of adventure, will challenge the hospitality industry to go where very few have gone before.

"Being sustainable is something I grew up with as my family has always been environmentally conscious," Stone explains.

"And then when I became a chef the desire to get the freshest food possible naturally complemented this mindset, because freshest is always the tastiest."

At just 23, Stone joined forces with Greenhouse Perth restaurant creator Joost Bakker, a builder and environmentalist who has taken rooftop farming to unprecedented heights.

As Australia's first all-recycled restaurant, Greenhouse Perth is a place where foodies can touch natural materials, understand where everyday fresh food comes from, and taste food straight from the garden. The motto? "If it can't be sourced locally, it's not on the menu."

It's not uncommon for foodie fans to book their table months in advance, while others join queues that snake around the corner, testament to the popularity of the restaurant's values.

Stone, now the executive chef for the various kitchens in the Greenhouse group, is currently based at pop-up restaurant Stanley St Merchants in Sydney's IconPark, one of the world's first crowd-funded restaurants. About 830 backers came together to fund the new restaurant concept to a tune of AU$281,370.

There is nothing commonplace about Stone's menus. Return customers come back for items including spicy crisped crickets and foraged wood sorrel on a snappy mix of fermented vegetables.

Balancing social impact with profit is the million dollar question and proving to both industry and customers that little things go a long way will be crucial in moving the dial in food sustainability.

"Tools such as compost machines and Juggler milk systems are all quite new on the market, but prices will go down with demand, and governments could play a leadership role in this by offering incentives," Stone says.

"We also serve sparkling water on tap, we don't take any plastics, and our Brothl restaurant in Melbourne receives food straight from the farms in crates. All of our grains and seeds come in reusable glass jars and all of the milk comes in two-litre containers that go back to the dairy."

Asked how he feels about the impact of beef consumption on climate change, he says most of the time he uses kangaroo instead. It's probably the most sustainable meat you can eat in Australia, he says: wild, extremely healthy and readily available.

Stone keeps his creative juices flowing by exploring in his own backyard and travelling to international events where he connects with many of the best minds in the business.

"Spending time with these chefs at the top of their game, and then applying new techniques and methods to my philosophies is always helpful," he says.

"But the environment is really the most inspiring. Exploring the coast and foraging for beach herbs, seeing what is in season, and being driven by the motivation to use absolutely everything. I just love feeding people, especially when my conscience is clear - because I know the meal was produced in the most ethical way."

Stone's accolades include Gourmet Traveller's Best New Talent Award 2011 and Western Australia's Good Food Guide's Best Young Chef 2011. He also has his own TV show, Aussie Recipes That Rock, a series that has aired in over 40 countries.

"The challenge is taking the things you can get and turning it into something delicious."

A version of this article was originally published on the TEDxAuckland blog. Check out the event's other speakers, which include sustainability strategist Rebecca Mills.

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