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It all began with getting 11 venues on board

I find much hypocrisy surrounding events that focus on sustainability. A topic that has devolved into a hot word thrown about carelessly and without putting much thought to its meaning. Sustainability is now a tool that helps one make their agenda trendier and more relevant. It is something that turns a business into a cause. It is something that makes all the participants happy. Does it make the world a better place though?

We recently had a big Sustainable event in my hometown. Vilnius Gastro Zero. An organisation called Sustainable Gastro ran the event focussing on zero waste. This ticked all the check boxes and raised my highest level of suspiciousness and scepsis. It was red alert.

Initially I refused to participate in the event as one of the venues. However, Jennifer (the head of the project) is very crafty and has a way with people… I mysteriously got convinced to write about the event and experience it for what it is first hand.

* sigh *

Here I am writing about it. Vilnius Gastro Zero 2019.

It all began with getting 11 venues on board. They were massively different from one another in their concept; ranging from loud pubs, to boutique cocktail bars, Asian restaurants and family run dining establishments. Big variety, one goal – Zero Waste catering experience!

Next came the food source. A huge premium shopping centre chain agreed to supply the participating venues with food they deem to be ‘ugly’ and ‘unfit for sale’. Food they normally throw away. Naturally, Jennifer felt like throwing edible, if a little tired-looking, organic food is a huge waste. At the same time, it was a huge win for the event. Chefs and bartenders were challenged to use ugly vegetables and fruits to create fantastic meals. Not everything went as expected though; the shopping centre provided just under 500 Kg of fruits and vegetables from ~ 5-6 stores. This. Was not. Enough.

However, the tables were set and the venues had no way back. They had to get creative and use what they have to produce the best results.

Now, did the venues create fantastic meals? Some of them did, some of them didn’t. A few were not well prepared service wise. Some were using this opportunity to display their skills and not minding the Sustainability aspect of the event that much. Luckily, there were quite a few who had done a great job!

I‘d like to take this opportunity to praise Le Travi for being so cosy and authentic that I wanted to go back the moment I left. They managed to prepare a three course dinner, serving marinated eggplant which would’ve gone to the bin at the supermarket. The main meal was a home-made pasta followed by pears marinated in red wine with a chocolate dressing for desert. The plating and the ratio of sustainable produce vs purchased produce could have been slightly better. Overall, it‘s an Italian family restaurant with a great cultural experience. Great performance and great ambience.

Stebuklai and Trinity both were fantastic with their friendly, attentive service and creative dishes.

Stebuklai were killing it with a molecular gazpacho served on a sorbet with a basil waffle on the side. Colourful and tasty, with many different textures and three different temperatures in one dish. It was very interesting to see how ‘tired’ organic food can be transformed using molecular cooking technique for foodies to admire.

Trinity was playing around with many different textures and food preparation ways. They were serving a risotto with a carrot puree, topped with a grilled eggplant, homemade fresh pickles, caramelised pear, zucchini tempura, marinated broccoli, onion flakes, herbs and spices here and there. The dish was a true journey of flavours and textures, the service was immaculate and I feel like Trinity grasped Sustainability aspect very well by tweaking each plate according to the supplies they had remaining. They used a cauliflower while it lasted and simply switched to broccoli later. Great creative approach.

The biggest surprise was a socially responsible salad restaurant called Guru. They started their rough road by becoming one of the first establishments employing ex-convicts and ex-addicts. They were one of the first places who suffered a huge revenue loss during the reconstruction of Vilnius Street (where they are located) and asked for help in social media. People responded and saved the place by simply going there more. Working inspired by causes is something they have done since day one.

For Vilnius Gastro Zero they hooked up with two great chefs Dalius Aleksiejevas and Tomas Petrikas. When they first saw their tiny share of fruits and vegetables, the chefs’ were a little down.  However, as true heroes of Sustainability they said ‘OK, let’s do what we can with what we’ve got’. And they did. They were brave enough to go about their task spending as little as possible and foraging where possible. They bought several bags of pearl barley and toped them up with apple, cucumber and garlic salsa, apple jam, peaches, fermented grape juice and pine needle broth. A simple and beautiful dish, displaying the chefs skills and creativity in a challenging situation.

Guru ended up standing as a beacon of flavours, creativity, social responsibility, teamwork, community and sustainability. This made them stand above the rest and their work alone restored my faith in Sustainability projects.

This is not to say that the rest were worthless or bad. It takes courage to participate in an event like Vilnius Gastro and I am positive that each venue will use this experience to get better and grow as a business with great examples set by the places that I reviewed.

Overall, it was great to see Jennifer and everyone behind Vilnius Gastro Zero put so much faith and energy into making this happen. We still have a long way to go in the area of sustainability but Jennifer and her team surely are taking the first steps in right direction.