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Future Shapers Food and Drink Matt Whiley
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Time Out Food Future Shaper: Matt Whiley

The Time Out team talk to the exceptional individuals moulding the future of Sydney

Written by
Alannah Maher
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Time Out is profiling the incredible people who are shaping the future of Sydney in this Future Shaper series. These remarkable individuals and organisations were nominated by a panel of expert judges including editor of Time Out Sydney Maxim Boon, celebrity chef and restaurateur Kylie Kwong, head of talks and ideas at the Sydney Opera House Edwina Throsby, NSW 24-hour economy commissioner Michael Rodrigues, CEO of IndigiLab Luke Briscoe, and NIDA resident director David Berthold. Read more about the project here.

Global bar consultant and bartender Matt Whiley was already shaking and stirring up the Sydney bar scene when he brought a local outpost of his award-winning London bar, Scout, to the Dolphin Hotel in Surry Hills in 2019. Along with the bar's impressive pedigree, he brought his influential mixology style, with a focus on cocktails built from rescued fruits and locally sourced produce.

Things got a lot more ambitious when he launched his latest offering. Created in partnership with restauranteur Maurice Terzini (Icebergs Dining Room & Bar; the Dolphin), Re- is the world's first no-waste cocktail bar in the up-and-coming South Eveleigh dining precinct. But the low-impact ethos doesn’t stop at the drink and food menus – everything including the decor and interiors is upcycled and sustainably sourced. At Re- you can sit at a bar made from recycled bottles and Tupperware, sip on a highball muddled with ‘ugly’ fruit and herbs, and gaze up at an artwork forged in charcoal from the recent bushfire disaster, and a stairwell built from recycled plastic bags.

Creating one bar where upcycling and limiting waste becomes cool is not where this mission stops, however. As he tells us, Whiley and his team are working to create a more environmentally conscious and sustainable future for Sydney’s bar scene, and the hospitality industry globally.

You can follow Re- on Instagram at @_wearere and Matt at @matt_whiley

You had already cultivated a global reputation in the bar scene. What motivated you to push on to develop Re-?

For me, Re- is like a second iteration of what Scout is. So it's about thinking about things uber local and really close to the venue. All the produce we get is either picked from the forager or from the [local farmer’s] market. We never really buy produce 'at its best'. We generally blend it up, so if it's ugly, or is a bit overripe, that actually works in our favour. With Re- we were like, how do we take it to the next stage?

In our lifetime, in the next maybe 10 to 20 years, the world's not going to be able to produce enough food for everyone who lives on the planet. Why is that? It's because, one, we over-consume food. And two, we throw so much away. When you go to the market, and you can have quite good access to the markets in Sydney, you get to see the sort of things that get thrown away. I think a bar or restaurant can operate [in a low waste] way, full time. As long as you have good connections with your buyer, it can work. So that's where Re- was born.

Sounds like you had the no-waste food and drink element down pat. How did you go about bringing that aspect to the decor, interiors and all the other elements of the bar?

I sat down with our designers and architects from [Sydney-based creative production agency] Alfred and we just interrogated everything. Everything became a question of like, why are we doing that when we can source and look for someone else? It was a little process that took some time to come together but ultimately wasn't that hard. Some of the floor in the mezzanine is made from car tires. The terazzo-looking tabletops, the bar top and the balustrade are made from recycled milk bottles, that are produced in Melbourne. Lampshades are made from mycelium mushrooms, they were grown in the Netherlands. The seat leather from the banquettes, that's made from pineapple leaves. Ceramicware is arranged by Mud from recycled ceramic and clay. Our coasters are made from post-consumer plastic by Defy Design in Marrickville. There’s more on the market than you think. We tried to look as close to home at first as we possibly could. And then if we couldn't get it we searched abroad.

Re- bills itself as ‘no waste’ rather than ‘zero waste. Can you explain the difference to us?

Yeah, we're still a little way off being zero, [but the barrier to being zero waste] is getting smaller and smaller all the time. We have a general waste bin, that's probably double the size of an office paper bin. We generate probably one of those a day at the moment. We introduced a notepad next to that bin where we record what goes into that every day, so we can constantly recap about what we’ve used. We constantly ask questions.

What have been the hiccups? Where have you found it most difficult to reduce plastic and waste?

A lot of fruit and veg comes in plastic. One supplier got to the point where when buying loose produce like citrus, they send it in crates that we send back the day after. But things like berries and stuff, they do come in plastic. So it's something that we want to try to figure out. One, how do we recycle the plastic? But two, how do we get close enough to the person who's putting it in that packaging? There are some suppliers, we refuse to refuse to take deliveries from them if we think that ultimately, there's no way we're going to be able to change that supply line. We started to look a little bit smaller. Smaller growers, we know that it's a cost that we can save them if they don’t have to put it in plastic. And we can start thinking about the person who is buying produce at the supermarket. Can we get them to take a container?

What do you want to teach others from what you're doing here?

'Teach' is kind of a word that I try to steer away from. We just want to start the conversation so people will think about their choices. We believe that everyone has the ability to do what we do. One of the biggest things is that we try not to over-order stuff. When I'm at home, we only really buy what we consume. So we know, before we even take the groceries into the house, there's gonna be no waste. And that’s something we use in the bar as well. If we know we’re not gonna use it within 24 hours, we just don’t order it.

What do you hope the future of the bar and hospo scene will look like?

We’re about to start a new initiative called Never Wasted, where we're partnering with nine other bars to start off, with sponsorship from Ketel One Vodka. We're going to create a concentric circular economy of waste. We’re asking every bar to share a waste item that they know that their venue wastes already and they're going to give it to another bar, that other bar will then create a cocktail with it. What someone deems as rubbish is someone else's treasure. The idea is that we want to be able to show that it is possible for the hospitality industry to communicate with each other and to share. We will then document how we do that and figure out how we make it better, so this can become a bigger, wider thing where more venues in Sydney can actually communicate and share their waste. That's one of the short-term plans for the next three years. But we also want to try and get to a point where we start a marketplace for waste. All of the vast amounts of produce that is going to waste in the market, will we will then be able to take it and distribute it to all of Sydney, but then also start this in other major cities around the world. We could then use waste as a way of a venue saving money. And then also the grower can get money for something that they would normally send to landfill. Everyone wins. We as an organisation would facilitate that as a nonprofit. That's a five-year plan, though, that doesn't happen overnight.

Meet the Future Shapers

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