Read: Irish Examiner | Sustainably say ‘I do’ to these zero-waste wedding menus
Making a wedding sustainable doesn’t have to involve compromises on the food front, especially when Cork-based chef and caterer Orla McAndrew is in charge of your menu. McAndrew started offering her Zero Waste Wedding Packages last September and there’s been a lot of interest in the meals that she makes from rescued produce that would otherwise go to waste. It’s not surprising with dishes like rabbit and blackberry filo parcels, Wagyu beef cassoulet with beef heart and Eton mess with lemon curd featuring at these no waste weddings.
“I would have expected a hard sell,” says McAndrew, “but it’s all sorts of people that are interested. I’m genuinely really shocked at what an easy concept it is to bring to people. Their reaction is amazing.” These aren’t beef-or-salmon type meals and there’s a lot of trust involved. Rather than the couple deciding on dishes in advance of their big day, McAndrew works with what she can source to create the menu, but this has advantages too. “Some people say that it takes the decision-making away from them – they’re leaving it all in my hands.”
Food waste is a global problem. Approximately one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation. If you’re already sustainably minded, this is something to keep in mind when you’re trying to figure out how to feed your wedding guests. A Reducing Commercial Food Waste in Ireland report published in 2019 by the Environmental Protection Authority, stated that over 66% of food waste from the food services sector is avoidable. Hotels have the highest level of food waste, with vegetables topping the list of shame, followed by bread, meat and potatoes.
It’s something that McAndrew is familiar with from her work in the food industry. “This is something that I have been ruminating on for the last 12 years or so, from when I had a farmers’ market stall [Lily Reilly’s Pantry]. The food waste was soul-destroying. Everything I made was perishable so if it didn’t sell I ended up giving it away to neighbours, or it went to the bin. I had a hatred of food waste right at the start.”
Setting up her own catering company in 2018 was a steep learning curve as her first job was catering a wedding for 130 people. “I overestimated the amount of food people would need. The only thing that I could take away from that experience was, ‘I’ll not be wasting food like this going forward.’” She learned that portion control – calculating exactly what goes on to each plate – is all important. “I worked on portion control from the get-go. It’s abhorrent to me to have food go to waste. I don’t waste food in everyday life and with catering there’s a big possibility of waste if you don’t get it right.”
With portion control down to a fine art, McAndrew turned her focus to sourcing. “I started thinking about what is happening to food that doesn’t make it to shelves in the first place. I went to farmers I knew and asked ‘is there food that doesn’t get used?’ and they said yes.” Now she is connected to suppliers throughout Ireland, “trying to make sure that the work they put into their food isn’t wasted and that it doesn’t end up in landfill.” This doesn’t mean using substandard ingredients, but instead focusing on excess produce that is in perfectly good condition. This is food that has been produced to a high standard but doesn’t make it to market, for some reason: things like lesser prized cuts of meat, gluts or small bits of fish, vegetables and fruit that are the wrong shape or size.
McAndrew works with a variety of artisan producers, which include Cork’s Waterfall Farms, Michael Twomey Butchers in Macroom, seafood wholesaler Sustainable Seafood Ireland, Cork Rooftop Farm and Tipperary’s Cashel Farmhouse Cheesemakers. “My suppliers ring me and say that they have something and if I can use it, I will,” says McAndrew, who is very conscious that they are remunerated properly. “I am paying full whack for what I am getting. It’s very important that the people growing and producing are rewarded for their efforts.” This means that the price per head for her zero waste weddings are the same price as for her regular menus (ranging from €85 to €110 per person). “There’s a lot more work,” McAndrew points out, noting that it takes more time to prepare off cuts and wonky vegetables. “It’s very labour intensive. It’s not cheaper – it should actually be more expensive – but I keep it at the same rate as normal to do something amazing. I’m putting in a huge amount more work.”
It’s paying off. “I’ve done six zero waste weddings so far,” McAndrew says, “with two more this year and five next year planned as well. They’ve all been such a success. I’ve also learned why people don’t do it,” she laughs, “it’s much easier to order food in advance. But everyone is aware that they’re involved in something very different. Even though they might not know that they’re at a zero waste wedding beforehand, from the youngest to the oldest they’re all interested and full of questions on the day.”
As well as wedding catering, McAndrew also does zero waste corporate events and offers the option of zero waste menus to all her clients. omcatering.ie