An immaculate plate of gourmet food is placed before you and the waiter proceeds to explain the flavour profile of the dish and its mode of preparation. In that moment, do you wonder where each ingredient has been and how it came to be food on your plate?

These days, sustainability is more than just a buzzword among those going green. Rather, it has become a way of living, influencing the purchases we make daily, the food we consume and even how we manage waste. In the realm of dining, several restaurants in Singapore have taken to exploring zero-waste methods, sourcing organic produce from local suppliers, providing meat-free options, and weaving awareness into the overall dining experience.

Here at Blue Sky Escapes, sustainable dining means supporting institutions that contribute to food sustainability in their own special way. We began by observing Meatless Mondays as a company-wide initiative to reduce meat consumption one bite-sized effort at a time and are now foraying into new territory with Fishless Fridays.

Our efforts towards a more environmentally sustainable world have come a long way. In a bid to share our love for this practice with the larger community, we later incorporated this intention into our wellness retreat series, An Emergence of Self, across a myriad of overarching themes.

Urban Farming

As a small island country, Singapore’s agricultural landscape has always been compromised by land scarcity. Consequently, much of the food supplies in local supermarkets is imported. However, increasing demand for sustainable self-sufficiency has seen urban farming in our garden city growing to new heights.

In the first edition of An Emergence of Self, we commissioned Benjamin Ang, founder of Natsuki’s Garden, to grow the ingredients needed for guests to enjoy an epicurean vegan dining experience in a menu titled ‘An Ode to Urban Farming’. The goal here was not to replicate the taste of meat but to introduce more people to the wonders of plant-based meals and the rich flavour profile of home-grown produce. The meal, plated by guest chef Ming Tan, carefully avoided traditional flavour enhancers and capitalized on the freshness of the home-grown specialty produce harvested from Natsuki’s Garden one day prior to the meal.

Horticulturalist Benjamin Ang & Chef Ming

During our initial visit to Natsuki’s farm, Benjamin introduced us to some of the species that he’d been tending to with meticulous care. The seedlings that were thriving under his green thumb were so exotic that most of our local population are strangers to them. To date, Natsuki’s Garden has successfully cultivated over 650 varieties of plant life and we had the fortune of sampling a few of the yummy, crunchy vegetables straight from the garden. Here are two of our favourites:

Pink radish

Kohlrabi is one among 15 varieties of turnips that have been successfully harvested from Natsuki’s Garden. As a biennial vegetable that is imported from Europe and Germany, this particular species is not native to Singapore and is especially challenging to grow locally.

Mustard greens have leaves that resemble dinosaur scales due to its waxy exterior. Chewing on the fresh leaf brings forth a burst of tangy and savoury notes. This particular variety comes from the strain of the heirloom. Varieties of this crop can range the colour spectrum from green to jet black.

As we bit into spicy turnips and traced our fingertips against waxy (and occasionally prickly) leaves, we took comfort in the knowledge that urban farmers take great care to ensure the produce is pesticide-free; while soaking in the ‘urban farming’ experience that would not be complete without the cacophony of construction droning on in the background.

Curious about Benjamin’s latest endeavor in growing specialty produce here in SingaporeFollow his journey on Instagram to learn more.

Farm-to-Table Menus

A growing clientele of eco-conscious consumers has led chefs and restaurant owners to get increasingly involved in each step along the supply chain, from growing their own ingredients or sourcing local and organic produce, to finding creative uses for what is conventionally known as food waste to most.

A sustainable practice requires quite the overhaul in culinary norms and we’ve onboarded the pioneer in the local farm-to-table movement, Open Farm Community (OFC), for our wellness retreat An Emergence of Self: Finding Stillness.

Head Chef Oliver Truesdale-Jutras harvesting produce from OFC's onsite farm, Edible Garden City

Since 2015, OFC has risen to the eco-challenge and been featuring local produce in their seasonal menu. Head Chef Oliver Truesdale-Jutras works magic on the harvest and offers natural meat alternatives that effectively follows the timeless ethos of simplicity with minimal additives.

The restaurant’s menu changes with the produce that’s available in their Edible Garden City with select few ethical imports to compensate for some gaps in supply. Admittedly, OFC’s garden setup does take exception to Singapore’s warm climate and relentless storms and ever so occasionally, they are unable to utilise the ingredients from their backyard. To develop insulation/build resilience against the erratic weather in Singapore and sustain their promised menu, OFC sources some of their ingredients from larger local farms like Ah Hua Kelong, Toh Thye San farm, and Hay Dairies.

Their sustainable practice represents something we feel strongly for and so for our upcoming retreat, one of the dishes within OFC’s curated menu will feature jackfruit freshly harvested from our office’s very own backyard.

Plant-based Future

The culinary landscape has also evolved to cater to vegan and vegetarian diets with the gradual inclusion of meatless options among menu options. Guests at An Emergence of Self: Finding Stillness can look forward to gastronomic plant-based dining experiences from prominent establishments such as Violet Oon, Grain Traders and Tamarind Hill.

Thai by Tamarind Hill

Known for their consummate flair for bringing the best flavours out of quality produce, these culinary teams have an extensive repertoire of traditional and modern dishes which include heirloom recipes. Whether you’re looking for vegan options infused with Peranakan flavours or for plant-based options inspired by the season’s bounties, there’s a place for you at our dining table.

Roasted cauliflower tossed with pomegranate and pistachio by Grain Traders

Notable crowd favourites among the participants at our last retreat were the ““char siew” jackfruit, black rice sauteed with leek and onions, roasted cauliflower tossed with pomegranate and pistachio” as elegantly put by Daven Wu whose sentiment was mirrored by most who effused that they did not miss their meats at all and would consider adopting a more plant-based lifestyle.

A Circular Food Economy

In food preparation, by-products such as vegetable skins, fruit peels, spent coffee grounds and more are generated but not used productively. OFC recognises this pattern and instead uses them to their utmost to maximise these precious resources such that almost nothing goes in the bin without maximum extraction. Examples include ice-cream made from old sourdough and syrups and ferments from basil flowers. A lot of the food that they make work are traditionally waste products to ensure that they are not lost to the circular economy of food.

Going above and beyond the sphere of culinary consciousness, OFC has been working with Green Steps Group to do their part to offset the operational footprint involved in running a business. Since integrating their platform into the F&B Sustainability Council, they have planted over 150 mangrove trees in Borneo, which combats about 3,982kg of carbon dioxide each year.

Their latest initiative is the most laudable one yet — with each dinner ticket at this establishment on Earth Day 2021, $6 went to planting a tree and building biodiversity in Borneo. When asked about their collaboration, Chef Oliver effused about continuing to have more tree-oriented events, all of which goes towards giving back to the land from which we took.

Chef Ming explaining the concept behind 'An Ode to Urban Farming' menu

Making the switch to meatless meals may appear daunting but there is an increasing number of restaurants integrating sustainable practices throughout its operations that make supporting local food sources and sustainable dining a real possibility.

If eating more consciously is a goal of yours, perhaps consider coming onboard our upcoming retreat which will feature a slew of sustainable dining options. Guest chefs from OFC, Violet Oon and Grain Traders who have done a wonderful job of bringing customers to flavour town without the use of meats will be introducing their take on meatless (and largely gluten-free) dishes. Think a curation of nourishing recipes, using fresh, quality ingredients laden with nature’s goodness and sourced sustainably where possible, in tandem with the seasons.

For more scrumptious ideas on sustainable dining options, support the trailblazing planting initiatives happening over at Natsuki’s Garden, the seemingly endless culinary renditions of locally grown produce at Open Farm Community and the wildly innovative plant-based menus at Violet Oon’s and Grain Traders.

Alternatively, find out more about the sustainable dining options available at our retreats: An Emergence of Self through [email protected].