You step into a fancy restaurant, and the food served is immaculately plated.
But rather than relying on buzzy ingredients sourced from far-flung parts of the world, the kitchen focuses on forgotten, ‘ugly’ ingredients sourced from Singapore. One dish may be made from secondary grades of meat, and another might comprise of oddly shaped, over-ripened, and overstocked fruits and vegetables that would have otherwise been discarded. Still, the food tastes as good as it looks.
Welcome to Kausmo.
The restaurant is the brainchild of Lisa Tang and Kuah Chew Shian who wanted to open a restaurant challenging existing food norms while sparking conversations about unnecessary food wastage. “Kausmo is here to grow awareness for such issues by starting conversations over food in a comfortable setting,” shares Lisa, Kausmo’s chef.
Locally, the issue of food wastage is a pressing one. Figures from the National Environment Agency show that the amount of food waste has risen by more than 40 percent over the last 10 years. In 2017, some 54,000 double-decker buses worth of food waste was generated, and numbers are slated to increase with rising population and economic activities.
Thankfully, there’s a growing appetite for conscious dining, signalled in part by a handful of green establishments that are redefining our relationship with food. And it’s more than just fine-dining eateries that are part of this nascent movement. Restaurants and even hawkers are championing a more holistic, sustainable approach to the way we eat.
At Thunder Tree, the Hakka hawker stall serves thunder tea rice that changes with the seasons.
The usual suspects that go into making the traditional dish is often switched up. Co-owner Cai Xiaoxi shares that long beans or mani cai (sayur manis) might be swapped for sweet potato leaves or other unorthodox greens – it all depends on the harvest from Fireflies Farm, her family-run organic farm.
“I always say that my vegetables are very hole-y,” jokes Xiaoxi. Thunder Tree uses overstocked vegetables from the farm, or crops that no one wants to buy. Her family wants to provide food that people can enjoy with peace of mind. This means keeping to strict rules: no killing, no pesticides, no herbicides, no insecticides, and no growth-inducing hormones.
“We want to work towards living in tandem with nature, where every single living being on the farm is respected and given the rightful space to grow,” explains Xiaoxi.
Even the vegetable scraps generated from the stall are collected and sent back to the farm, where it is composted and used to nourish the next batch of crops.
But the farm didn’t always operate on this green philosophy.
When Fireflies Farm first started in 1998, chemicals like insecticides were used. The turning point came when the family realised how harmful conventional farming methods can be: close contact to chemicals deformed the fingers of Xiaoxi’s mother.
“Being on the farm, you know exactly what the chemicals are doing to the ecosystem,” says Xiaoxi. “How does it feel when you know that it’s in your hands; that you are responsible for doing this?”
Raising the roof
Not all sustainable efforts need to start from the ground up.
Spa Esprit Group has teamed up once again with Edible Garden City to open a Japanese restaurant on the roof of Funan. At its porch: a 5,000sq ft urban garden that is home to over 50 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and micro herbs.
The harvests find its way into the menu at Noka, sometimes in a hearty tomato salad, or at other times, as an accompaniment to main dishes.
“Many people believe that local produce isn’t easily found, or aren’t as fresh,” says Cynthia Chua, the founder of Spa Esprit Group. “Local ingredients are also perceived to be inferior in taste as compared to their imported counterparts.”
Noka hopes to prove otherwise. Other than growing its own crops, the restaurant is also the first in Singapore to use a local source for its blue prawn sashimi. This helps reduce food mileage while supporting the agri-food industry.
The restaurant also adopts other eco-friendly practices.
It avoids single-use plastics, and uses recyclable chopsticks and kitchen storage boxes. Special effort also goes into planning how much food should be prepared to ensure that food wastage “is limited to almost none.”
“From carefully planning the menu to the ordering of ingredients, Noka applies simple steps to waste less and recycle more,” says Cynthia.
A green universe
Back at Kausmo, guests are learning about the ‘ugly’ produce that the restaurant uses.
Many are surprised – not at the misshapen objects, but rather, at how normal it looks. “They are shocked to learn that great produce is discarded due to filtering standards,” says restaurant manager Chiew Sian.
“We wouldn’t use the word ‘ugly produce’ as the ingredients we get have absolutely no damages or bruises in any way – contrary to what the term implies,” adds Lisa.
But even sourcing for such produce comes with its difficulties. For one, the availability of ingredients changes frequently, and with it, the need to constantly adapt the menu. There’s also the hidden logistics and transportation cost, given how little the 16-seater restaurant purchases as compared to large-scale importers.
Beyond the eco-friendly provenance of ingredients, extra thought has been placed into how the way Kausmo operates. Coasters are fashioned from scrap fabrics, and cutlery holders are made from upcycled wood. Chiew Sian sums up Kausmo’s ethos in one word: thoughtfulness.
She explains: “Sustainability is a huge word with multiple layers of meaning behind it, and it might seem daunting to start. Thoughtfulness, however, refers to the small steps that everybody can incorporate in their daily lives.”
“We can all make more thoughtful decisions in different aspects of our lives. Kausmo is just starting with food.”