Royal Opera House Head Chef Richard Robinson - Sipsmith Gin Palace at the Royal Opera House ©2021 ROH. Photograph by Jason Spoor
Royal Opera House Head Chef Richard Robinson - Sipsmith Gin Palace at the Royal Opera House ©2021 ROH. Photograph by Jason Spoor

Sustainability Stories: Saving vegetables from landfill

Richard Robinson began as executive chef of the Royal Opera House in the summer of 2021. As well as changing what is on the menu, Richard has been changing how we use and reuse products that would normally go to waste. We caught up with him to talk about his sustainable approach.

‘I’m really excited to be creating menus that reflect the contemporary appetite for a more considered dietary approach’.

What has inspired you to create food that makes a difference environmentally?

‘Growing up in the countryside you are given a real understanding of organic growth. I think that the way we treat food now – perfectly straight carrots, peas all the same colour – is wrong and not that natural. I want to make the Royal Opera House as organic as possible through the menus I create. You’ll see there are more vegan and vegetarian options available across the café and restaurants. I hope to use these dishes to showcase great seasonal produce.'

What do you do with the food that would otherwise go to waste?

‘My siblings and I were always taught as children to never leave an empty plate! Although you may think that that doesn’t make much of a difference, if all 700 members of staff do the same, it will have a big impact on our waste output. We have a chance to make a big difference by working together.

We have also begun working with City Harvest, which is a London-based food waste charity. While we do our best to use as much as we can in house, when we had to close during the lockdowns we were able to send our surplus to be donated to others via food banks across the city.'

Are your suppliers sustainably-minded too?

‘We work with many great suppliers to obtain quality produce that all comes from within 40 miles of our kitchen. For example, we use Social Pantry to connect with smaller, artisan suppliers in and around London. They work together to ensure all the deliveries are made in one movement, which hugely reduces the carbon footprint of each of our dishes.

Nature’s Choice are our main fruit and vegetable suppliers. They provide us with a delivery of surplus from other companies. Surplus usually meaning wonky, but I don't mind! These are used in all our smoothies, juices and cakes. It is a great challenge for me too. I have to design the weekly menu around what is delivered, not the other way around.'

What sustainable choices can visitors look out for on the menus?

'We are proud to make produce here on site that has a great sustainable impact. Look out for ‘this morning’s ricotta’ on our restaurant menus. We steam milk that hasn’t been used in the café and press the whey into a homemade ricotta. In fact, our café is both the source and recipient of some of the most sustainable items on the menu! They save used teabags so that I can soak the raisins used in our desserts. In return, I bake them a delicious coffee and walnut cake with the coffee grounds used that day!'

What about in the bars?

'We are working hard to make our bars sustainable too. We have recently changed gin suppliers to a brand that uses completely sustainable botanicals. And we aren’t leaving out the mixers! Even though we were recycling the bottles of tonic, we thought we could do better. We are soon to have tonic fonts installed in the Level 5 Bar to eliminate the glass coming on site in the first place!'

What can we do to join you in the journey towards net zero?

'We serve 10,000 guests a week. That is over 1000 meals a day. And we feed the staff and artists backstage too. We promise to not compromise on the product, quality, cost or experience that you have here. We only ask that you join us on the journey. Trying something new, bringing your reusable coffee cup, and composting our single-use cutlery are great places to start.'