How Chef Paul Svensson's zero-waste cooking philosophy built a restaurant and a community
The award-winning chef, cookbook author, and environmental steward is ushering in a new generation of local restaurants with his latest venture, where he emphasises local growers, seasonal produce, and never wasting a single thing that comes through the doors.
Chef Paul Svensson has nearly done it all when it comes to cooking. From writing award-winning cookbooks and appearing as a judge on culinary competition shows, to running "the world's best restaurant in a museum" at Stockholm's Fotografiska and competing in the elite Bocuse d'Or for his native Sweden, Svensson has never failed to impress and delight. Yet what's most remarkable about the renowned chef is his commitment to the planet as much as the plate, as is apparent in his latest venture, Paul Taylor Lanthandel.
As Svensson tells it, "I have always wanted to work and immerse myself within a community, and to build a business that becomes a part of the fabric of a place. When looking at global and local sustainability, it is essential that a grassroots movement of people passionate about change and working together are energised and engaged in making decisions that are good for the local community's economy, have a positive impact on the local environment, and also bring people together to create a cohesive and happy society."
At PTL, as the restaurant is fondly nicknamed, there is a zero-waste philosophy. The food is all locally and sustainably sourced, and Svensson and crew are in constant communication with growers to ensure they receive the most seasonal and abundant crops at any given time of year. Svensson works with local farms and businesses to support the community economically and "reduce the travel miles behind the food we produce." The restaurant team talks with these local producers to learn "what they are doing, what they need, and how we can help. It's very much a partnership," Svensson says.
"PTL is a magical place," he adds. "In addition to working to create a better world and a happier community, we are also really trying to help our team have the best opportunities that they can." That means pride in their work, a cooperative spirit, and a path toward business ownership for all restaurant employees. "It's more than just a job and a salary," Svensson says.
His ultimate goal is "to provide space for the team to develop in a way that makes sense for them, while also being able to provide delicious food and drinks that make people happy, all while working as locally and sustainably as possible."
It's not just the people working at Paul Taylor Lanthandel that love it; it's also the local community. Local businesses "have really embraced us and are so kind and supportive of what we are trying to do here," Svensson says with gratitude. "It seems that they are also proud to have us here and want more and more for us to be successful and to grow." PTL will be focusing on building and strengthening its local partnerships even more in 2021.
Because there's so much respect for the local products they source, the PTL team has "built a system and business that tries to get the most from everything," as Svensson puts it. Vegetables and other produce that the restaurant sells to the public "also become lunch and dinner here at PTL, so nothing gets thrown away, as we have an option to use it in a different way if it doesn't sell immediately. We then turn any food waste into compost, which becomes soil that grows vegetables that we buy, and so the loop continues."
Svensson and staff are all creative culinary problem-solvers who are motivated by the limitations before them. Ask them how to make something memorable out of the scraps that most people would toss in the trash, like carrot peels, celery leaves, or broccoli stems, and they'd have more than a few suggestions. "I believe passionately that sustainability is not just about environmental sustainability—it's also about people, and it's the people here at PTL that are the lifeblood and the inspiration behind what we do every day," explains Svensson.
The PTL team takes enormous pride in working with an ever-changing menu in a restaurant where nothing goes unused, and for Svensson, the team is what PTL is all about. "Our team is integral to everything we do. Some are working as new owners, developing their skills and learning new responsibilities. Others we support through great working conditions and trying to develop them and their futures in a way that they are keen to see happen. The key to this working is that we are a team. No one is too good to do the dishes, no one's idea is dismissed. We are in it together, and together we are stronger."
Chef Paul Svensson hopes that this message of togetherness resonates on an even greater level this Earth Day, when we can all reflect on our carbon footprints and consider how to eat and live more sustainably.