Chef Arthur Potts Dawson: changing the world one sustainable restaurant at a time

His London restaurants employ composting, a wormery, and a dehydrator to reduce waste. His next goal: a restaurant that actually takes in carbon and releases oxygen.

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British chef Arthur Potts-Dawson founded Acorn House, London’s first truly environmentally sustainable restaurant.

British chef, restaurateur, and author Arthur Potts Dawson is passionate about the planet, good food, eating well, and making the most of what’s fresh, local, and seasonal.

Mr. Dawson has been cooking for 25 years. He’s been a chef for Jamie Oliver at Fifteen, the Soho House Group at Cecconi’s, Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray at the River Cafe, and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall at River Cottage HQ.

Dawson now works with the Shoreditch Trust, a charitable organization working to address the causes of disadvantage in the most deprived areas of Shoreditch, London.

With the Trust, Dawson founded Acorn House, London’s first truly environmentally sustainable restaurant and Water House, a restaurant offering delicious seasonal food and a firm commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility. He published the Acorn House Cookbook in 2008, which shows its readers how to prepare “good food from field to fork.”

Dawson is the founder of The People’s Supermarket, a sustainable food cooperative that responds to the needs of the local community in London and provides healthy, local food at reasonable prices. He has also given informative speeches on his methods of creating sustainable restaurants on TED Talks.

Who influenced you to become an eco-friendly chef?

I was trained by great people who definitely inspired me, but I think it was actually when I began to open my own restaurants that I realized being economical and ecological helped save money and energy and also benefited the environment. It was by becoming a business owner that becoming green came so naturally.

For how long have you been practicing sustainability habits?

I have been practicing these methods since I opened my first restaurant in 2006. It is hard to be sustainable when you are working in someone else’s kitchen because perhaps they don’t want to take time to recycle rubbish, compost, or buy organic.

My grandparents live on a farm where they grow beans and raise sheep. They’re doing what people used to do in the past, grow food and eat food. What I want to do is introduce urban communities to rural communities and harmonize the two. A city cannot survive without the country.

What kinds of foods are you growing on your rooftop garden?

There are 75 different varieties of fruits and vegetables, including blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, sole, chard, artichokes, mushrooms, potatoes, and much more. The first year I planted one of everything, and the following season I planted 10 varieties so we would have enough volume of an ingredient to put on our menu. We turn our food waste from the restaurant into compost for our garden beds.

Do all of your restaurants have a composting system, wormery, and a dehydrator on site? Can you explain to me a little about the purpose of each?

The worms help to break down the compost faster and more efficiently to be used in the garden. The dehydrators basically turn compost into vegetable jerky. We do this because the compost in its raw state has a lot of volume and rubbish from a commercial kitchen creates a lot of compost. The dehydrator takes all of the water out of the compost and reduces the volume by 90 percent. That way the compost (that we don’t use for our gardens) gets picked up once a month, rather than several times a week.

Has the Peoples Supermarkets in London been successful?

Yes, it has been very successful so far. We have eight farmers who specialize in one product each. This way, every item has exceptional quality and flavor. Depending upon the season we can get up to 12 to 14 independent growers. I see the market growing monthly; in about three to four years there should be 30 to 40 producers.

Are you planning on opening more restaurants? If so where?

Of course I will always open up restaurants and be experimenting with what I like and believe in. I want to open a restaurant that actually takes in carbon and releases oxygen; it will be my next “elemental” restaurant: air.

What are some of your plans and goals for the future?

First, develop urban relationships with farmers. Second, teach, teach, teach people to reuse, recycle, and reduce waste. Third is to never ever stop and be happy with what I’ve done, because I can always do more.

• Jadda Miller is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.

This article originally appeared at Nourishing the Planet, a blog published by the Worldwatch Institute.

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