Sustainability. It’s the hot topic now and rightly so.

Did you know, that in the developed world, almost half of our food is thrown out every day?

In Australia alone, that is around 4 million tonnes of food per annum that gets thrown out.

And that is just the weight. In dollar terms, it equates to $7.8 billion dollars of food a year.

A whole year people!!!

That’s disgusting. Not only is it disgusting, it’s extremely harmful to our environment.

Fact: Food at landfills release methane which is 25% more harmful than the carbon emissions out of your car exhaust.

How do we rectify this wastage? How do we change our bad habits so that we can have a better future?

In danger of sounding like a new-age hippy, I’m going to say, we have to learn to care. We have to work together and spread the love and knowledge.

One way of doing this is to spread the message on sustainable eating (or sustainable foods), where we consume foods that have a lesser impact on the environment.

I can’t say this enough, but “Eat Locally, Think Globally“, which I wrote about during Blog Action Day, stands so true to the heart of the sustainable (eating) movement. The more we buy and eat locally, we help to reduce the impact of importing foods and the harm that it causes to the environment.

So you may ask, what does that have to do with the humble cacao pod?

As you can see in the sketch above, the entire cacao (or cocoa) pod can be used, not just the seeds.

During the recent Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, I was lucky enough to be invited to learn more about the sustainability movement by attending the Green Cacao Pod dinner hosted by chocolatiers Tina and Maddy from Xocolatl Cafe and Douglas McMaster, BBC’s Young Chef of the year.

During the Green Cacao Pod dinner, audiences learnt about sustainability as well as how useful the humble cacao is in cooking and it wasn’t all about sweets and desserts.

Indeed, there was only one dish at the end which showcased chocolate.

To be honest, when I first received the invite, I was intrigue and sceptical all at once. Firstly, because I didn’t know much about cacao apart from it being used in chocolate making, and secondly, I wasn’t too sure how chocolate would taste when paired together with savoury items.

With my curiosity piqued, I humbly accepted the invitation.

Douglas McMaster was not only very pleasant to speak to, but he was most passionate about sustainable cooking. Little surprise then to find out that he worked as one of the chefs at Matt Stone’s Greenhouse project at the MFWF pop-up restaurant.

Douglas’s enthusiasm was infectious, and he happily showed me a sample of what service would be like with a short tour around the prep, cooking and garden area.

Hot out of the oven, the first course of the night were Cocoa & Parmesan Biscuits. Paired with Gin, Lillet Blanc, White Chocolate.

Before you say, “Eeeeww!, cheese and chocolate?!”, wait. The cacao used were actual nibs, paired together with poppy seeds and parmesan, it was very savoury and not sweet at all. In fact, our table had an all round agreement that we could keep eating these little biscuits the whole night!

The cocktail was perfect, light, subtle and refreshing, it was a welcomed drink!

Squash Soup, Ewe’s Curd, Cocoa Oil. Paired with Beetroot, Mint, Verjuice, it was delicious. One of my favourite pairings that night.

Cacao oil, as Tina (or Chocolate Tina) explained later that evening, is one of the most stable fats, and has natural antioxidants in it which prevents rancidity, has a low heating point and is used well in frying meats :)

Next up, Turnip, Beach Mustard, Cocoa Mass. Paired with Vodka, Tomato, Chilli, was what Douglas described to me as his most challenging dish, in terms of taste and texture. He was afraid that not everyone would get the pairings to this dish.

When we did get to taste it, our table was torn and couldn’t come to agreement if we thought this dish worked. It did make for a very pretty picture!

The next dish also drew some attention, as it was Tuna, Seaweed, Cocoa Nibs. Paired with Tequila, Lime, Agave. We were told that the tuna used was sustainable as it was Yellow Fin Tuna (which is currently no longer in danger of being overfished), however, consensus were, was that all tuna cannot be sustainable in the long run.

Note that cacao nibs were sprinkled all over this dish, and Chocolate Tina mentioned that she would often do this for her salads, as it added a new depth to the texture and flavours of the vegetables!

The cocktail which was paired with this, was very delicious, with the sea blight providing hits of salt as we bit into them.

My favourite dish of the night, and also my most sinful action of the night was the Ox Sweetbread, Quinoa, Cocoa Butter. Paired with Aperol, Soda.

I was nervous the whole night, and was close to hyperventilating when I realised that two of the dishes were “beef” dishes. As you all know, I do not eat beef due to religious beliefs.

However, as I was a guest and the chef had cooked his heart out that night, it would have been rude of me to not try a slither of the meat.

And so I did. And absolutely loved the slither that I did have (the rest, I pawned over to Matt Stone who inhaled it –> sustainable!).

The next dish was a bit odd, as we went back to a seafood dish. However it was explained to us that it was to be sort of a palate cleanser.

School Prawns, Finger Lime, Sea Blight on Coriander Sorbet. Paired with Gin, Cointreau, Lemon. The dish was good, and pleasant, but roundtable agreement (again!) was that if the school prawns were deep fried (and not raw), it would have been even tastier! But I’m always biased to deep fried anything and obviously the sorbet would’ve melted quicker if the prawns were deep fried.

And so came the beef dish of Intercostals, Shallot, Nasturtium. Paired with Port, Cremede Menthe.

Intercostals is the meat between the ribs of a cow. Usually discarded away by chefs.

I tried a tiny tiny bit of this dish before giving it away to Matt. He was truly enjoying sitting next to me that night as he was getting all the good food from me!

The winning item on this dish were the beautifully fried crispy shallots. Us seated together wanted to rename this dish “Beef & Onions!” as it was exactly that. Unpretentious and delicious.

Desserts were amazing, with the first being a Whey, Eucalyptus, Apricot ensemble. Paired with Whiskey, Honey, Ginger.

I loved it. It reminded me of the Chinese Silken Tofu dessert, known as Tau Foo Fah.

Lastly, and rightly so, was a chocolate dessert! Yayy! Almond Curd, Cherry, Cocoa Crumble. Paired with Rum, Almond, Cherry. My first thought, “deconstructed black forest cake!” before happily voiding my mind of all thoughts and finishing all of it!

Everyone involved in the production of the Green Cacao Pod (Douglas, Tina, Maddy, Lisha, and everyones’ sisters and brothers (who volunteered as waitresses/waiters) were very passionate about sustainable food and it was not hard to see how much this project and message meant to all of them.

The message that night was clear.

It is not hard to eat or cook sustainably, you just need to make a conscious effort and break the habit of overbuying, and throwing out good food.

Use the whole produce when you cook. Pickle your vegetables and fruits! They last longer.

And remember, it is our responsibility and duty to look after the environment and our planet as we are its caretakers.

Thank you all for a fantastic night and educational journey :)

[Ms I-Hua dined as a guest of The Green Cacao Pod, Little Big Marketing and the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival]

*Disclaimer: All food ratings & review are purely based on my own experiences and how I feel about the service, food and quality at the time of visit

Event: The Green Cacao Pod at Flaunt, Richmond
Date: This event took place on 16th March 2012, as part of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival 2012

To read more about sustainability and how you can do your bit to save our planet, read these helpful links:

Foodwise

Sustainable Table

The Australian Marine Conservation Society

Sustainable Seafood

By Joost