Sustainable Gastronomy Day: How The QEII Centre puts sustainability at the heart of its catering

On Sustainable Gastronomy Day, Danilo Barbagallo, Executive Chef at QEII Taste at leading London conference and events centre, The QEII Centre, discusses his planet-friendly approach to event catering, and explains how this is helping the venue’s catering arm progress its pledge to reach carbon neutrality by 2030.

Seasonal shifts

We’ve recently brought out our spring/ summer menus, and because we’re committed to 100% seasonal sourcing, each season brings with it new challenges, but also new opportunities, in terms of the type of food we can serve.

I love coming up with delicious new dishes and flavour combinations that showcase the best of the seasons. In my native Italy, tomatoes are an absolute mainstay of our cuisine, and are of course at their best during the hot summer months, so on our new menu I was keen to include a showstopping tomato salad. Our heritage tomato salad features thyme marinated olives, ‘mozzarella’ lovage pesto and garlic croutes. Other seasonal ingredients this month that we have used in other dishes include summer squash, courgettes, peach, fennel and watercress.

We also have a range of fish and meat dishes. For example, this month, as beetroot is in season, one of our dishes is cured chalk stream trout with lemon confit potatoes, beetroot and caper tartar and a dill dressing. We don’t offer beef on our standard menu due to its higher carbon footprint, but we have a choice of duck, chicken, ham and mackerel dishes, and local grass-fed beef can be sourced for a client on request.

Best of British

The QEII Centre has a British first sourcing policy for its food and beverage menus, and we aim for at least 80% of our seasonal fruit and vegetables to be British. In addition, the majority of our meat and dairy comes from IMS of Smithfield, which has developed strong relationships with many of Britain’s most prestigious farms over the past 40 years, and are committed to the purchase and continued supply of British meat. We also have an air freight ban on all our products.

We enjoy working with local suppliers who share a similar ethos, such as Good & Proper Tea, a B-Corp registered speciality tea supplier based in Southwark, South London, who carefully source delicious, single-origin teas from around the world and focus on the brewing to create a delicious cup of tea.

Plant-forward

One of the biggest impacts we can make as a supplier of food and drink on a large scale is to have a plant-forward menu. Plant-based menu options have been shown to have a much smaller footprint on the planet, requiring less water and land to produce, and resulting in fewer climate-heating emissions.

We now have a 50% plant-based food and beverage menu, and all our deserts are plant-based, from our peach cobbler with vanilla cream to our chocolate caramel pot. I’m proud of how far we have come with prioritising plants on the menu. Working with plant-based ingredients does force me to be more creative and experimental, and I personally enjoy the variety of the flavours and combinations.

Measuring the impact

We work with Foodsteps carbon labelling to measure the effects of each dish on the environment. Foodsteps has a farm-to-fork approach to carbon labelling to take into account the entire food production process from the farming, transport to site, cooking method and storage. This system uses a sliding, colour-coded scale from A-D to indicate which dishes are the best for the planet.

We have a tasting room right next to the kitchen where clients can discuss their menus and sample the food, and we’ve found that the Foodsteps scale helps the client to see at a glance what food and drink is going to help them reach theirs, or their clients, sustainability goals.