inspiration2021/11/19

Our Q&A with Ravinder Bhogal, Food Writer & Co-Founder Of Jikoni, The UK's First Independent Carbon Neutral Restaurant

by Ravinder Bhogal

Ravinder Bhogal is a food writer and Chef Patron and co-founder of Jikoni, the first independent restaurant in the UK to become carbon neutral. 

Jikoni celebrates both the beautiful similarities and intricate differences between cultures through ‘mixed-heritage’ cooking. Tell us a bit more about it's background and where the inspiration first came from to launch your own restaurant. 

We are a neighbourhood restaurant in the heart of London’s Marylebone Village - I sometimes like to say an "unrestaurant" because Jikoni is so special. It's a place where friends and strangers gather to eat food that is an expression of the immigrant experience - a longing for what we left behind and the wonder for our new landscape. Our food is what happens when those two powerful things are reconciled. We cook across borders and describe our cuisine as immigrant food.

Opening the doors to my restaurant in 2016 was an incredibly emotional moment. I'd struggled for so long with the constraints of being put in a box – being commissioned to cook or write exclusively Indian recipes that apparently reflected my personal experience. No one would dream of asking a chef of French heritage to cook only cassoulet or a British chef to stick to making classics like toad in the hole, so to ask someone with such tangled roots to cook just one cuisine is reductive. Having the restaurant finally gave me a chance to express myself, to find a language of my own and develop a voice with which I could finally answer back. 

Jikoni recently became the first independent restaurant in the UK to become carbon neutral (congratulations!) - what are the various elements that have been put in place to cement this? 

The first was our change to use green energy. All our power comes from sustainable solar and wind energy and our gas is carbon neutral green gas. 

Our suppliers are also key. We try to work with small independent producers who we know are looking after the land and we are now working exclusively with the local biodynamic farm Waltham Place. There is such joy in knowing your produce is being grown by people committed to sustainability and healthy farming practices which nourish the environment and wildlife. As a chef, to know your vegetables were picked from the ground on Tuesday and are in your hands on Wednesday, brought to you by the same farmer, is amazing. 

Photography by Rahil Ahmed

We have also partnered with First Mile, who help us measure and monitor our waste output. We separate our waste into glass and paper recyclables and mixed business waste. First Mile show us our recycling percentage and make sure non-recyclable waste does not go to landfill. 

With regard to food waste, we actually have a very low food waste level in the kitchen partly due to our menu planning, style of cooking and fresh daily orders. I grew up in a household in Kenya, surrounded by maternal figures who had this sort of collective wisdom about cooking with produce, using everything and planning cooking sessions for the family and guests collectively. There is a certain resourcefulness that comes from that environment that we bring into our training and menu development. For any food waste that is produced, First Mile are able to turn this into green energy and fertiliser (providing it has been carefully separated).

Why did you and your co-founder, Nadeem, decide that this was a step that you were keen for the restaurant to take? 

At Jikoni we believe that we should be a restorative business. In fact, the word restaurant comes from the French word to restore. This means our purpose is to restore our guests, our team, our suppliers, our neighbourhood and wider community, and the works around us. Part of this is looking at our environmental impact and, as such, we started the journey to becoming a carbon neutral business. I also come from Kenya and grew up watching rural communities who have a very low carbon output being the most affected by our huge consumption and this felt really unfair to me, so I wanted to do something that I felt made a small difference.  

Photography by Rahil Ahmed

What was the biggest obstacle that you had to overcome? 

Finding a company to partner with who made it practical and possible for small independent businesses like ours. We did it through Climate Neutral. 

Do you have any advice / tips for our readers in order for them to become more mindful around their carbon consumption?   

You can reduce your individual carbon footprint by choosing to walk, bike or take public transit, flying less, eating less meat and making your home more energy efficient – choose providers whose power comes from solar and wind sources. When it comes to clothes – buy pieces that are made to last, avoid fast fashion and use clothing shared economy sites, alongside donating and recycling your clothes. 

Photography by Rahil Ahmed

Do you have any advice or ideas for how you'd like to see the restaurant industry as a whole progress in terms of environmental and social impact? 

I think one of the easiest and best things all restaurants could do is look at shortening supply chains and invest in 100% home compostable packaging for takeaways – ours turns into soil in 90 days so there is nothing left!  

What’s next for you and what’s next for Jikoni? 

In the short term we have our incredible fundraiser The Samosa Sisterhood coming up on the 28th November with amazing women like Meera Syal, Anoushka Shankar, Mishal Hussain doing readings to the backdrop of great food by me and pastry chef Ravneet Gill and a soundtrack provided by live DJ sets by Yung Singh. We are raising money for undocumented women and children who are victims of domestic violence. Next year we’ll be announcing a new series of Civilised Sundays which is going to include a phenomenal line up. Finally I am very excited to be working on book 3!  

Ravinder's Banana Cake with Miso Butterscotch and Ovaltine Kulfi 

Serves 12 

Ingredients: 

  • 1 tbsp black tea leaves
  • 200ml boiling water
  • 200g pitted dates
  • 110g unsalted butter
  • 350g dark muscovado sugar
  • 1 tbsp treacle
  • 1 tbsp date syrup
  • 400g self-raising flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 200g peeled bananas 

Photography by Kristin Peres

For the kulfi: 

  • 50g Ovaltine
  • 450g condensed milk
  • 300ml double cream

For the butterscotch: 

  • 500ml double cream
  • 175g demerara sugar
  • 175g unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • 60g white miso 

Method

1. The kulfi will take at least 6 hours to set, so make it ahead of time. In a large bowl, mix the Ovaltine into the condensed milk until there are no lumps. In a separate bowl, whip the cream to soft peaks, then fold it into the condensed milk mixture. Pour the kulfi into a tub and freeze until set. It really is as simple as that! 

2. Preheat the oven to 190°C/Fan 170°C/Gas Mark 5. Line a 24cm square cake tin with baking parchment.

3. Put the tea leaves in a heatproof jug or bowl, pour over the boiling water and allow to infuse for a minute. Strain the tea, discarding the tea leaves, then soak the dates in the hot tea for 10 minutes. 

4. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until smooth. Stir in the treacle and date syrup, followed by the flour, and mix well. Mix the eggs in one at a time.

Photography by Kristin Peres 


5. Tip the soaked dates and tea into a blender or food processor, along with the vanilla extract, and blitz to a puree. Add the bicarbonate of soda and pulse briefly, then add to the bowl and mix thoroughly. 

6. Wipe out the blender, add the bananas and blend until smooth, then add to the cake batter and stir in well. Pour into the tin and bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean.

7. Meanwhile, to make the butterscotch, put the cream in a saucepan over low heat. Add the sugar, butter and golden syrup and whisk until the sugar has dissolved and the butter has melted. Finally whisk in the miso, then remove from the heat.

8. Turn the cake out on to a wire rack and leave to cool a little.

10. To serve, cut into 12 portions, then serve warm with the hot miso butterscotch and the Ovaltine kulfi. 

11. To confine your use of miso to just soup would be to miss out on a multitude of exciting gastronomic opportunities – one of the best of which would have to be the miso butterscotch that goes with Jikoni’s famous banana cake. This dessert has such a cult following that certain die-harders will call ahead to make sure we have a portion saved for them. 

12. The banana cake is based on the idea of a sticky toffee pudding, although it is much less dense. Then there’s that dizzyingly luxurious miso butterscotch with its compelling mix of sweet and salty flavours. To top it all off, we have the ‘nostalgia in a bowl’ of Ovaltine kulfi, a condensed-milk ice cream that has an almost chewy texture. And if that wasn’t enough to make you fall in love with this dessert, making it is a piece of cake! 

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