Sustainable Cuisine with Burdock & Co’s Andrea Carlson and Ono Vancouver’s TJ Conwi
By Avneet Takhar
We were lucky enough to sit down with two of Vancouver’s heavy hitters and well-known chefs! Andrea Carlon of Burdock & Co – named Vancouver Magazine’s Chef of the Year (2020) and whose vegetable-focused, creative cuisine has earned her recognition as a food artisan. And TJ Conwi, Founder of community-driven collective, Ono Vancouver who supports non-profits for meal programs and provides private dining experiences.
They gave their insider advice from vast experience and growth, on how to maintain a sustainable structure in the food industry. For both customers and suppliers, they gave their expertise- an eye-opener to shutting down food myths and identifying opportunities where a few small changes can go a long way.
Burdock & Co’s menu seems to focus on plant-based options. What led you to this decision?
Andrea Carlson: We try to find balance in our menus. We have a heavy focus on vegetables because there is so much fabulous produce out there! We feature a seafood, meat and pasta or bread dish on every menu, in addition to the vegetable feature.
As a successful chef who also houses sister companies, Bar Gobo and Harvest Community Foods under your name, what is the key to maintaining sustainability across multiple concepts?
Andrea Carlson: We draw from the same grower supply network for all three of our restaurants, supporting local food security is our core goal.
The “farm to table” concept has become pretty popular, but oftentimes with a heftier price tag. Do you have any thoughts on this?
Andrea Carlson: We strive to use the freshest seasonal products at Burdock & Co. This is inherently what happens when you focus on the organic small-scale producers that are closest to home.
What’s the difference between organic and non-organic, and how can the high price points be explained?
TJ Conwi, Ono Vancouver: Organic farming means that the farms are certified and use the best sustainability practices, so their costs are much higher than commodity non-organic farms. For the most part, organic is the best choice, but when you’re buying local from small farms and they observe organic practices- but with no certification, it’s still better to support local.
Some small farmers don’t have the resources to apply for organic certification. Supporting our local farmers means you’re supporting sustainability and a circular economy
There’s a great emphasis on community in food; how do industry members go about cultivating this especially if they are “lesser known”?
TJ Conwi: By collaborating with like-minded community-conscious businesses. We all tend to uplift each other through sharing what we learn, and it’s always a good time to be in good company
Where do you tend to source your ingredients and why?
TJ Conwi: I tend to support my local stores and industry friends where I know my money will go to support them and their families and not corporations. I also source from businesses that give back to the community.
Businesses like the Yen Brothers, who make sure all of their surplus food does not go to waste and send us food to cook for various charities since Covid started. We have cooked more than 300,000 meals and saved 8 tonnes of surplus food from the landfill because of their help.
What can chefs and restaurant owners easily do on a budget to create more sustainability in the food space?
TJ Conwi: Keep an eye on your food waste. Stay on top of your menu planning, sourcing and only order and prep what you need. In Canada we waste half of the food we produce. 35 million tonnes or 30 billion dollars worth per year! Have a system, make a plan then you’ll also save on food costs.
Is there a key to being simultaneously: ethical, sustainable, profitable and successful, from your own experience?
TJ Conwi: From my own experience, I think that if consumers will pay for the extra cost and vote with their dollars, it will help sustainable businesses achieve profitability. Small businesses already have small margins so the cost of sustainable ingredients and packaging should not be absorbed by them. We should support them for doing the right thing even if it costs a little more.
To check out Ono Vancouver’s services click here
Visit Burdock & Co here
Located at 2702 Main St, Vancouver, a 5-minute walk from Broadway and Main street where the 3, 9, 19 and 99 busses stop. For more information, visit TransLink’s Trip Planner.