Thore Hildebrandt – my transition from Banker to Sustainable Chef

Read more why I left my banker career behind, cooking plant based cuisine now, offering sustainable vegan cooking classes or private chef services in Berlin and Germany now.

In my late 30s I decided to leave the banking industry – after over 18 years. I spent some time with myself and went traveling the world. 

 

Initially by bus and plane and later I discovered bike traveling. For me, a great way – more sustainable, better to see nature, explore new countries and connect with locals. Also during my trip I enjoyed cooking with others and discovering their cuisine. Everyone was so open and curious.

 

“How 10 days in a Buddhist Monastery changed me” 

 

The start of my personal journey in 2016 was a 10 days visit to the Kopan Buddhist monastery in Nepal, Kathmandu. A very intense time with reflection, new insights, meditation, discussions and new friends. I believe this time also affected me and my current lifestyle, not immediately, but it changed me. This includes the way we treat humans and animals and what we all can do.

 

 

My homecoming and discovery of immense food waste – 1 truck load per minute!

 

After returning home to my family and friends in Germany I was made aware of all the food waste we produce here in the industrialised countries. We live in a surplus society while having access to great produce from all over the world almost 24/7. And here the bummer – we only consume ⅔ of it and the rest is considered as food waste. (Quelle: WWF Deutschland “Das große Wegschmeissen”, Juli 2015) 

 

 

Only in Germany this adds up to 18 million tons. To visualise – this is one truck load per minute. That is a shame! Can you believe it and can you imagine the amount of edible food that is wasted on a global basis? If we find a better way of farming and distribution we could feed all humans on the planet. 

Many individuals have worked hard so that we (in the western world) can enjoy local and exotic products from all over the world. We use up a lot of land & resources to produce food for animals and also farming. To me the amount of animal product consumption is way too high.

 

Tom inspired me to explore the plant based cuisine

 

It’s all about inspiration. Prior to Christmas 2017 I spoke with Tom, who I met in Vietnam, over the phone and he told me that he started eating plant based. What hit him by surprise – his asthma improved so that he didn’t need to take his spray anymore. This was a key moment for me – I decided to join the Veganuary Challenge. In 2018 I started to cook and eat plant based. Since I was a teenager I loved to cook and explore. So now it was time to explore vegan cuisine 

Would I survive? 

  • Do I get enough nutrition?
  • Do I have access to enough tasty food and ingredients? 
  • Would I miss the way of cooking and eating animal products? 

To be honest – it was a journey and did not happen overnight. Some people change their eating habits quickly, for others it takes longer. And this is alright. Every little step towards a plant based diet helps. Supports a healthier lifestyle, our planet and the animals. 

 

How can we all fight food waste together?

Also in 2018 I met Raphael Felmer and Martin Schott, founders of  www.Sirplus.de – a sustainable impact startup from Berlin. They save food which would be thrown away and be considered food waste. I was fascinated about their mission and also the number and reasons behind food waste. Most of the time food waste must not be considered food waste – it is okay to eat. Many packed products have expired their shelf life, are wrongly labeled or are considered overproduction. Fresh products like fruits and vegetables don’t have the right size or shape. Or just some fruits in a box or container are mushy and the whole container is dumped. What a shame and waste of precious resources. 

Privately I participate in The Real Junk Food Project Berlin – a non-profit association. They advocate the sustainable use of resources, the reduction of waste, food security, and social justice. TRJFP brings people together and shares the joy of cooking and eating to inform everyone about the fight against food waste.

If you are outside Berlin, check FoodSharing

What has changed in the way I am cooking and did I survive my transition to plant based cuisine?

I do not cook with animal products anymore. That means no more meat, eggs, dairy or honey. A whole bunch of new plant based ingredients entered into my life. New friends like chickpeas, beans, different mushrooms, seeds, nuts are now part of my kitchen family. But also a variety of spices appeared on my shelves. Soy sauce, miso paste, smoked paprika, Kala Namak, Kombu seaweed.  what to substitute classic dairy and meat with, my new way of cooking.

 

Well, it´s like with all we start with. It takes some time. And I strongly recommend that you take your time and do not stress yourself. One step after the other – there is no reason to completely turn vegan. Even I occasionally choose a vegetarian dish, when I do not find suitable vegan dishes while traveling. 

Trusting our senses again: See, smell & taste!

Did you know that we consumers statistically contribute up to 50% of all generated food waste? (Quelle: Bundeszentrum für Ernährung)

When I speak with my guest this hits most by surprise since many believe its the producers, distributors or food producing companies. There is still a perception that “expired” food (beyond Best Before Date) cannot be eaten anymore. That’s a myth – most of the produce is good to eat weeks and months after the Best Before Date. In Germany the “Mindesthaltbarkeitsdatum” was introduced only back in 1981 – while many households still believe that packed products are not edible anymore. This is just wrong – we should trust our senses more: see, smell & taste. Just as many other generations did before or other nations which do not have the “Best Before Date”.   

So while I was already exploring the world of plant based cooking and eating I wanted to cook more with saved foods. While cooking privately at home for friends with Sirplus ingredients I met Jack Cosson – at this time Nomadic Chef – and we hosted a joint Supper Club. A Supper Club is a dinner where different people come together to enjoy a special feast. They usually do not know each other. We cooked a 4 course plant based menu incorporating some Sirplus ingredients – the idea was very well received by our guests and the interest around the topic was big. I guess that was the moment where I had the idea to increase the amount of saved food into my dinners and later my cooking experiences. 

 

I experienced that people lack inspiration and time how to use up food they have at home. Usually I share with them what they can do with older and hard bread, what to do with ripe bananas, carrot and radish leaves, soft vegetables and how to substitute animal products in the day-to-day cooking. 

 

My sustainable cooking experiences and rescue dinners for corporates and individuals

My mission: “I want to inspire people to break new ground and connect them with each other, with nature and our resources through the senses, for a healthier and more sustainable life.” 

 

First I started to cook sustainable 4 course plant based dinners only with ingredients I got from Sirplus during my supper clubs. The feedback from my guests was so positive that I kept up the way of cooking. 

Many guests wanted to know why I cook the way I do and more importantly how I cooked them. It turned out that some of them would love to discover a more sustainable way of cooking and eating so I started sustainable cooking experiences where my guests get the chance to cook together with me. All that you do yourself is way more interactive and educational than just reading books or listening to someone talking about it. 

During my sustainable cooking experiences and cooking classes  we all discover the great produce I saved from Sirplus or organic supermarkets. Everybody is surprised to see the good quality – sometimes better than what we can buy in normal supermarkets. During this time in the kitchen or around the dining table we talk about what everyone can do to save food and resources. 

I want to show alternatives and take the fear that plant based cuisine is boring, not tasty or too complicated. When we cook together we always prepare dishes suitable for everyday use. 

This is a great way to share my vision “I believe that with small changes in consumption anyone can have a lasting effect on our planet.” 

Check out this short 3 minute video about me here. I also posted some great recipes which you can access here.   

 

Do you want to know more about people and incorporations that inspired me? 

On my journey several individuals and companies inspired me. I am happy to share their websites with you – check them out.  

 

Sophia Hoffmann: Vegan chef , cookbook author and activist from Berlin, Germany. In February 2019 her new cookbook “Zero Waste Küche” has be released.

Sirplus: Supermarket offering saved food and sustainably produced products

The Real Junk Food Project: They advocate the sustainable use of resources, the reduction of waste, food security, and social justice

Sacred Food: They rescue food waste from supermarkets in the Gozo area, and cook it up for the local community and the homeless on the streets.

Wild and Root:  Wild & Root is a collective of creative storytellers. We craft interactive campaigns for sustainable brands, turning their values into engaging experiences. We believe in the value of food, environmental education and emotional connection.

 

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