Serving a circular meal for a big group of people is not a case of easy peasy lemon squeezy. But our in-house circular chef, Arabella van Aartrijk, sure likes the challenge. She’s responsible for the food that we serve in BlueCity and makes sure no one leaves our pool of possibilities with an empty stomach.
Arabella has been hosting the Meatless Monday Meetup for the past few years in BlueCity and recently also opened her own circular kitchen, Food & Footnotes. Located right underneath the bar where other BlueCitizens eat their vegetarian lunch on Mondays, Arabella prepares the most delicious, circular meals for guests.
As a circular chef, Arabella takes into account other factors besides taste when choosing products for her dishes. “Whenever I buy products, I make sure the number of food mileage is as low as possible,” she says, “that’s why I get a lot of my products at Rechtstreex.” Rechtstreex exclusively sells products that are produced within a circle of 50 km of Rotterdam. “This also automatically means I’m stuck with seasonal fruits and vegetables; strawberries simply don’t grow all year round in the Netherlands.” she says laughing.
By consciously making choices based on food mileage and seasonal production, Arabella tries to minimize her impact. “By using food that’s produced close to home, you reduce the CO2 emissions by – literally – shortening the number of miles the food has to travel.”
Arabella believes it’s important to create awareness around the story behind our food. Many people don’t realize what takes place before something ends up on their plate. But, most importantly, she wants to show people that it is possible to cook differently. “Serving a healthy and tasty meal with the lowest possible impact on our environment is possible,” she says, “but it is a puzzle. Especially if you also want to work with waste streams as much as possible.”
The waste streams that Arabella uses for the circular catering in BlueCity – which by the way is completely vegetarian and on request vegan – originate from different places, one of them being Eosta. “Eosta is the largest supplier of (semi) exotic organic and biodynamic vegetables in Europe.” she explains, “Large companies like these often generate large waste stream, and together with the Ugly Food Rescuers Club I collect those remainders.”
Despite the products Arabella rescues and the ones she buys at Rechtstreex, it still remains a challenge to put an appetizing dish on the table every single time. “But, it’s also great fun to experiment and come up with something different for every event.” Arabella says. “And so far, the guests seem to like it too. Sometimes they even stand in line for a doggy bag!” she says proudly.
Looking for solutions
Though Arabella succeeds in solving many problems in a circular manner, there remains one that she’s yet to tackle: the residual flow of packaging material. “You don’t realize it, but even an organic apple is packaged in either plastic or cardboard- or both.” Arabella says, “And also drinks that come in glass bottles are a challenge, after every event we’re left with this type of waste.”
Fortunately, paper and plastic can be recycled within BlueCity. “We collect this and donate it to Community Plastics and Better Future Factory, both based in BlueCity, who use it to make new products with.” Arabella explains. “But there is no solution for glass yet within BlueCity. We could clean the bottles and reuse them, but that is more expensive than using new glass bottles, and thus not a solution for in the long run.”
Granola made of beer
Still, Arabella found a short term solution for these glass bottles. She combines the waste stream remaining from Thijsthee with the waste stream of beer bundle of brewery Vet & Lazy, based in BlueCity’s basement. “During the beer brewing process, grains float to the surface,” Arabella explains, “normally these are scooped out and thrown away. But because they have an incredible amount of flavor and contain many nutrients, I came up with a new purpose for it.”
So instead of ending up in the binn, the grains end up in Arabella her kitchen. “I collect the grains, combine them with some dried fruits, nuts and seeds and turn it into a sweet or savory granola that can be used as a topping for yogurt or soup.” To package and store the granola, she repurposes the used and cleaned bottles of Thijsthee. “One bottle perfectly fits a double portion.” she says.
Want to know more about circular catering?
Producing food and then throwing it away seems absurd – yet it’s standard practice, certainly in the event industry. Time to change that!
BlueCity is therefore working towards circular catering and zero waste events. No fresh strawberries in the winter, but syrup made from Rotterdam elderberries. No ordinary snacks, but ones made from oyster mushrooms. And cricket burgers instead of beef burgers – just because we can.
Text: Manon Dijkhuizen, photography: Sophie de Vos