Silo: The Zero Waste Blueprint – Book Review

This is not a cook book. It’s a real page-turner laced with pearls of wisdom, practical tips and inspiring visions of a sustainable food system. I was gripped from the beginning as Douglas McMaster tells his story from dropping out of school aged 16 described as ‘dumb’ by fellow students and teachers through travels around some of the world’s top class kitchens to finally setting up his own restaurant, Silo, the first zero waste restaurant in the UK. What is for sure dropping out of school made no difference to Douglas’ achievements. I was left breathless trying to keep up with him.

 


“This is not a cook book. It’s a real page-turner laced with pearls of wisdom, practical tips and inspiring visions of a sustainable food system.”


 

Falling into kitchens by default, his early career is focused on achieving a name for himself as a chef, which he does very rapidly and with great aplomb by winning BBC Young Chef of the Year aged 21. But the glory of this success is seemingly short-lived. Soon he is yearning for a greater success: that of finding his own purpose. He dedicates himself to this quest travelling the world and working with different restaurants for as little as a few days, weeks or a month at a time, not settling for anything that didn’t feel right. Some might call his wild determination deranged, but all visionaries have to be a little deranged in the minds of most. In his book he quotes another great visionary, Salvador Dali: “I don’t do drugs, I am drugs.” I can see why he likes that quote!


“I don’t do drugs, I am drugs.”

-Salvador Dali


As an entrepreneur myself I can relate well to Douglas’ comments on bravery. He explains that people often told him he was ‘brave’, but that confused him, because to be brave you need to be scared and most of the time he was just naïve in not knowing what to be scared about. Bravery and naivety are often confused in this way and I can certainly vouch for being blessed with naivety when I started Tried and Supplied (the decentralised technological network Douglas so clearly imagines by chance in his book). Douglas describes the feeling of naivety in his characteristically imaginative way:

“Being naïve is like eating jelly beans without knowing their effect. When you eat the jelly beans you have a false sense of security, a rainbow-coloured force field protecting you, obscuring the view of danger. This confidence allows you to brave the unknown, march forward into new territory. However, when the jelly beans start to wear off, reality reveals itself.”

Chef Doug McMaster on food supply chain and direct trade
Douglas McMaster describes the differences between direct and indirect trade
Chef Doug McMaster on food supply chain and direct trade technology
Douglas McMaster imagines Tried and Supplied the decentralised food supply chain network

Despite the chaos that ensues from eating jelly beans, with a bit of grit, determination and creativity great things often come out of that chaos and Douglas concludes: “God bless the jelly beans.”

 


“God bless the jelly beans.”

-Douglas McMaster


 

Serendipity, his own intuition as well as a dose of jelly bean effect led Douglas to recognise his purpose as a chef and ultimately throw himself body and soul into creating Silo in Brighton. The overuse of jargon like zero-waste don’t do Silo and Doug McMaster justice. Silo is a restaurant without a bin. Think about that for a while. Imagine your own home without a bin. What would you do? How would you manage? In today’s world Douglas’ commitment to having no bin is definitely on a scale with one of Dali’s paintings. Yet Douglas made it his reality and not only a reality, but a successful reality that produces some of the most innovative meals the world has ever known. This book provides the blueprint for others to follow in his footsteps without having to eat quite as many jelly beans!

Silo by Doug McMaster - creative humans
Illustrating human creativity

Douglas explains succinctly and in simple terms why he is committed to zero waste and what that means for him. His explanation is aided by visual diagrams and creative illustrations. But Douglas doesn’t just convince us that zero waste is important, he makes it seem achievable and even fun. The Silo Formula includes tips on managing ingredients and materials as well as ideas for recipes of dishes and preserves. My only criticism would be that I would have liked to see his recipe ingredients shown in parts rather than weights. He explains that they work in parts, but I think it takes a recipe to be written in parts to change the mindsets of home cooks like myself to making recipes fit around the weights of ingredients available to them rather than following the instructions assiduously.

Doug McMaster Silo zero-waste recipe
Doug’s zero-waste recipes for January

Reading is believing with this book. Against all the odds, despite all the mistakes, disasters and delusional ideas, Silo exists and succeeds where critics at its launch publicly stated “Silo will fail.” This is a book that will leave you both exhausted and inspired. Douglas makes the impossible achievable and in very real terms describes how he made it happen. You simply have to give it a go.

If you would like to taste some of Douglas’ inventions, his new Silo restaurant has just opened in Hackney Wick.

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