Silo’s superstar chef is leading the zero waste revolution
Although Douglas McMaster’s wizardry splits the critics, it would be irresponsible for me to simply list what Silo is and isn’t – as most websites have done. What made Silo famous amongst people like me, is the very fact that the team behind it operates a fine dining hospitality model without having an in-house bin. A restaurant that doesn’t send anything to landfill is like the Kardashians without make-up or like London without Big Ben – nearly unthinkable.
We arrive at Hackney Wick when the smokey dull sunset is just stretching over the Olympic Park’s towering red spiral. What a stunning view that is from the little brick bridge that arches over the canal. Loud, colourful graffiti represents the local East London crowd on the walls whilst messy topknots, orange fisherman beanies, cropped trousers with pulled up white socks and overworn Stan Smiths are queuing up for that well-deserved Friday night beer. Silo, the world’s first zero waste fine dining restaurant is providing a humble backdrop to the Covid version of what was once known as Friday evening rush hour.
Silo is set within something that is officially called The White Building which provides a creative hub to artists and a craft brewery.
We sit down at the gorgeous round table and, naturally, order our first glass of wine right away. Piroska from Austria resembles something between red wine and rose and is as refreshing as fresh strawberry squash out of the fridge. Our waitress, Iris is charming and girl-from-next door kinda beautiful, quickly explaining how the small dish system worked. The entire menu is projected on the back wall (no printed versions = zero waste, daaa) from which we choose five dishes to share including the famous Siloaf, Silo’s signature sourdough served with home-churned salted butter.
Shortly after we place our order, Doug shows up balancing plates in his hands. Humble, funny and very well-spoken, with that crazy passion in his eyes, explaining each dish as he puts them down on the table. He recognises me since we follow each other’s work on social media and spoke on the phone a couple of times before. Plus I did tell him we were coming.
If your expectations of what we ordered and ate are in Marcus Wareing heights, I have to pull you back down to Mama Earth. If I tell you that we had bread and butter, potato, lettuce, Padron peppers and a chocolate cookie, you’d think I could have just stayed home and popped down to Sainsbury’s. But what if I reassure you that each portion delivered a mini orgasm from divine smoked potatoes to crunchy gem lettuce that tasted like freshly squeezed elderflower? You’d probably raise your eyebrows, wouldn’t you? Zero Waste takes you back to basics, whilst the Silo version of Zero Waste elevates basics on a naturally elegant way.
Doug comes back a couple of times for little chats and offers a guided tour a bit later around the kitchen and back of house. His team takes amazing care of us in the meantime.
I’m passionately obsessed with people who dare to push the boundaries. I’ve been passionately obsessed with the idea of Silo since I first heard Doug say “we don’t have a bin”. It takes a genius to come up with such a statement that, in fact, needs a completely reimagined, anti-industrial food system. It takes someone who doesn’t make excuses.
He shows up again, excited to show us his baby – “I’m ready for the tour” he says. I grab my wine and follow him to the entrance. My inner nerd is mind-blown when he shows us their compost (I know.) – something I’m struggling to execute even at home. Their respect for ingredients and a clean supply chain system is outstanding, alongside the no use of single-use packaging. As we whizz through all the gorgeously nerdy details of upcycled wood and glass, magnetic tables, cork floor and plates that are made from old plastic bags, the team behind Silo may seem like a bunch of eco-warriors who are trying to turn everything into something else. In a much bigger scale, all they are doing is challenging the status quo with a ridiculous amount of passion.
No detail is too small for someone who dreams about revolution. Douglas McMaster’s mantra, “waste is a failure of the imagination” comes alive in every single corner of Silo. It’s a piece of art that is living and breathing and defies everything you know about the hospitality industry. Why I was following Doug’s journey with Silo in the past couple of months is because he represents everything I imagined Zero Waste Generations to be. His ideas are simple yet innovative, elegant, sexy and chic yet live in perfect harmony with nature. And the truth is, the world in 2020 needs more people like him.
2020 has been an exceptional year for lots of crazy reasons. I’d like to think that both Silo and Zero Waste Generations are leading by example to challenge what most people think can not be done. And what a great time to prove them all wrong.
I appreciate that the bigger portion of humanity finds it easier to live in a world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change the world for the better. People don’t spend time thinking about plastic pollution and waste in their spare time for lots of different reasons. Drowning in plastic doesn’t yet affect our lives directly, but as humanity lost its way somewhere around the 90’s, it remains our responsibility to make smarter choices today. And some people – God bless them – feel more responsible than others.
Watch “Waste is a failure of the imagination” documentary on youtube here
Book your table at Silo here
Buy Silo: The Zero Waste Blueprint book here
Follow Silo on Instagram here
Follow Doug on Instagram here
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