This Sydney Bar Is Collecting Restaurant Food Waste and Turning It Into Knockout Cocktails

Re Bar

When I first met Matt Whiley, he had just opened Re, Australia’s first no-waste bar. He had big plans to lead a global movement to change the conversation on how bars talk and act on sustainability and waste.

This was back in April. A lot has happened since then, including a 107-day lockdown. While we were busy fine-tuning our at-home bartender skills, Whiley and the Re team were busy doubling down on his mission statement to reduce waste.

At the end of June, Whiley converted Re into a bottle shop, which was when, according to him, they were the busiest they had ever been.

“As soon as I heard whispers we were going into lockdown, I ordered thousands of glass bottles for takeaway cocktails. We encouraged people to return the bottle and gave them a discount on their next order. We probably had 4,000 returned,” says Whiley.

Although, converting into a bottle shop was just one of the many fruitful conversations Whiley had in lockdown. His next announcement is a big one and could change the way the hospitality industry operates.

“It’s called Never Wasted, and we’ve teamed up with eight of Sydney’s leading food venues and suppliers,” he says.

Whiley approached Josh Niland at Saint Peter, Lennox Hastie at Firedoor, and a few others who agreed to give him their waste to create cocktails, utilising the byproducts that would usually be thrown in the bin.

“Josh Niland is already great at using up the whole fish, so he gave us his Murray Cod salted caramel and we’ve made a martini with passionfruit and fig leaf gin. We’re using the hibachi cinders from Firedoor to drip a drink through it, in the hope it grows and evolves depending on what was cooked the night before. It’s all experimental.

Messina cuts off the tops of the strawberries for their strawberry sorbet and that would normally just go in the bin,’ says Whiley. The pulp left over from juicing pandan, we get that, too, and the chocolate that gets stuck in the machine they use for tempering. All those elements make up the Messina drink. We hit the strawberries with liquid nitrogen to make them super frozen, then we break it down to a fine powder and infuse it with tequila. It’s such a strong, bright red strawberry flavour that comes from a part that nobody eats”.

It also works vice versa, explains Whiley. He gets a delivery of chaff (skin from coffee) but then passes on the byproduct to Mapo who will make gelato with it. All the waste is collected by the Re team, although Whiley hopes that this time next year, he will have 50 venues partaking in Never Wasted.

re bar sydney matt whiley
Instagram @_wearere

“My end goal is to have a marketplace to distribute waste. It will be a two-prong system so venues can list what waste they have, and other venues can buy that waste for their own products. They pay a service fee based on weight and can collect their product. We’ll be the middle man as non-profit,” says Whiley.

The hospitality industry is responsible for 12-15% of all food waste. As we know, food waste is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, including being more harmful than plastic and oil together.

“Recently, it’s been raining a lot, which has resulted in excess fruit. Farmers will throw spoiled fruit away because, in the end, they’re not going to pay labourers to pick spoilt fruit, especially when they don’t know if it will sell. Bars will buy that fruit because we turn it into a liquid anyway, we don’t need it to look perfect. It’s expensive to grow fruits and vegetables, so if we can educate people we can change the current situation,” he says.

According to Whiley, this initiative can go global. A documentary on Never Wasted will be released soon. Whiley has been shooting the past few weeks and he has plans to travel and bring the conversation to international waters.

Across Sydney, Whiley hopes to collectively cut food waste by 80%. Then he has his eyes set on Melbourne, the rest of Australia and eventually major cities around the world.

“We want to be at the centre of how we can stop food waste by bringing venues together and educating people”.

This article originally appeared on Thrillist Australia.

Read more stories from The Latch and subscribe to our email newsletter.