Being forced to be inventive

A chat about sustainability with Josephine Sondlo bartender at Bar Homage in Stockholm.

In May of 2017 she was announced as being the number one bartender in Scandinavia and later that year she placed herself in the 7th place of the best bartenders in the world during the Word Class Competition in Mexico City. Today she lets us know that the most exciting thing about sustainability is that it forces you to be creative and to innovate.

Why did you decide to become a bartender?

“It wasn’t really a decision (except from maybe watching the movie cocktail as a kid and thinking ‘I want to do that’) as much as stumbling across the profession by chance. I needed a job after I quit school, started as a barback without really knowing what the position entailed or even what I was supposed to do. I guess I’m a quick learner and I’m really, really competitive, so I decided to get as good at barbacking as anyone could be (to this day I’m still a better barback than a bartender, I think). As I did, I started to get an understanding of how the bar worked, my curiosity grew and the rest is, as they say, history”.

At the World Class competition in Mexico she made her cocktail out of leftovers from the hotel breakfast; discarded tea bags, fruit, fruit peel and carbonated yoghurt. Getting this good at coming up with new uses of what someone else would consider trash doesn’t just happen over a night. It’s something that is worked into everything she does.

“I try to rethink my use of ingredients, seeing how far I can stretch every part of every ingredient I put into a drink. Nothing that doesn’t have to be thrown out gets thrown out until I’ve exhausted every possible way that item can be used. For example: if I use egg-whites for sours the egg-yolks go into the kitchen, or get cured with soy and in turn become flips, the shells can be saved and used to clean bottles or go into the compost to adjust the PH. The leftover fibres from pressing ginger becomes fermented into a ginger-bug. And so on and so forth. I really enjoy playing with the notion that the things we discard are just ingredients and flavours we haven’t yet found a use for”.

I really enjoy playing with the notion that the things we discard are just ingredients and flavours we haven’t yet found a use for

It seems like a whole lot of effort in an already busy line of work. Why is reducing waste so important to you?

“Because it is a no-brainer. We have one planet with limited, exhaustible resources – try as we might to deny or disregard it because it feels good to go on vacation or have that new iPhone – and that is a fact. Seeing as landfill and the food waste that goes into it is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, I would be an idiot not to think it important to decrease waste. The amount of energy and pollution that goes into producing the food we so readily waste comes at a VERY high prize, and it makes no sense to produce as much unnecessary waste as we do”.

What keeps you motivated?

“I’m not always motivated. I don’t think anyone is. There are days where I just want to stop working and do something easier. Because to me, service is incredibly difficult. I’m actually quite shy and awkward, so giving people service has always been a tremendous challenge for me. But that’s the motivation too, anything that scares me or is uncomfortable I have a tendency to want to master. And I absolutely live for the moments when I can give my guest a great, memorable service experience, regardless if they’re just having one glass of wine after work on a Monday night or a whole flight of cocktails on a busy Saturday. As industry people, we have the privilege of being able to give our guests something that cannot be ordered over amazon and delivered the next day – we have the opportunity to give them an experience that makes them feel something”. It’s a very special thing, really.

Continuing, Josephine points out that the biggest challenge is that, no matter what you do yourself, the problem is global.

“The same challenge we all have, in every industry, in every household in every part of the world the problem is global. After all: we live in an unsustainable world which is built on a global economic system, on beliefs, on culture, on values and behaviours that assume that the earth has infinite resources. So no matter how hard we try to be sustainable we’ll always fall short somewhere along the line. Even if you manage operate in a completely closed loop system, the rest of the world doesn’t, so it’s a kind of damned if you damned if you don’t type of situation. There’s more than one challenge but I’d say the biggest one is rethinking everything and coming up with solutions that don’t exist yet. We need a game changer, because if we play by the rules already set up in the game of the world as we know it, we’re bound to fail”.

She leaves us with some last words and pointers on how to start really making a difference.

It’s fine and all that we ditch the straws and make sure that our bars have solid recycling-programs, but that’s far from enough. Put pressure on suppliers, packaging, emissions, transportation! I think that if we go about change as an economic incentive rather than a moral one we’ll have a lot more leverage. If we refuse to carry products that don’t meet our standards for sustainability, we have the opportunity to change the way a company thinks. Do what you can, however little or insignificant it may seem! Change starts small, you know. Save all the water from the tables and use it to mop the floors and clean the toilets. When you empty out the ice-well, dump the ice outside instead of putting it in the sink and pouring water over it. Weigh your collected trash and see if you can reduce that number. It’s good to see how much waste you actually produce – if you know that you need to reduce your weekly waste by x kilos, it is a lot easier to get than than just ‘reducing your waste’. Recycle, upcycle, read up, do whatever you can to invent new ways to think about ingredients and waste. And that, by the way, is one of the most exciting things about the sustainability challenge, it forces you to be creative and inventive”.
Want to know more? Watch this video about The Green Hustle.