Home Sustainable Home with Matt Stone
Imagine a home that produces more energy than you need, grows more food than you can possibly eat and manages all of this within a closed loop.
That imaginary home is being built right now in Melbourne’s Federation Square. The house, constructed from shipping containers, will not only feed its inhabitants – chefs Matt Stone and his partner Jo Barrett – but also itself.
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The brain child of florist, restaurateur and environmental genius (I don’t use that last word lightly) Joost Bakker, the house will not only provide its own energy, but will do so in part through the use of its waste products, which will be converted into energy via an aerobic digester. It will not only produce, it will re-use and it will leave nothing behind. The goal, says Bakker, is to create the “biggest little ecosystem in the world.”
By his own admission, Stone didn’t get into cooking with that in mind. “I started cooking because I was wagging school to go surfing,” he admits. “Then the thrill of service got me, the high pressure, the tense atmosphere, it was the environment that drew me in.”
From a non-descript bistro in the Margaret River, to the acclaimed Leeuwin Estate Winery and later Perth’s much-loved Star Anise, Stone found his feet (and kept up his surfing) in restaurants across our western state.
Then at just 21 he found himself head chef of Bakker’s first incarnation of the Greenhouse Restaurant in Perth, a restaurant devoted to growing its own produce within, on and above its walls.
From the pull of the kitchen environment to the environment itself, Stone found his focus shifting. “Joost would question everything: why are you using that? Do we need this plastic? He is so inquisitive. Over time we got rid of all of that stuff.” And his questioning nature extended to the sourcing of produce. “The more ethically raised and produced it is, the better it tastes, it’s that simple.”
Since leaving Perth, Stone has worked around Australia, occasionally returning to Bakker’s projects, but most recently turning heads with Barrett at Oakridge Estate. During their time at the winery the duo earned numerous accolades and awards for their innovative, sustainably driven cooking.
“We already do a lot of fermenting and pickling, but here we’ll have to be preserving everything,” says Stone of this new project, “there’ll be a lot of old techniques, but fermentation will be the heart of what we do.”
“I think the most exciting thing is we started a new thought for Aussie cuisine back then [at the early Greenhouses] and we get the chance to continue that now.”
To illustrate his point, Stone describes the tigernut milk they’re working on. This pea-sized nut is actually a noxious weed with a very low water requirement – one of the environmental criticisms of standard nut milks. Will this be the world’s most sustainable nut milk?
As for animal protein, there’ll be some chickens, however, protein will also come from crickets and mealworms. “We’re looking for nutritional value not shock value – something that’s slightly more approachable.” As an example, Stone cites his cricket garum. Drawing on the ancient Roman fermented fish sauce traditionally made with anchovies, the sauce will be used to add that precious umami flavour to dishes.
Through a range of ingenious solutions, the house will provide everything the inhabitants need. Water-saving wicking beds will be used to grow fruit and vegetables; yabbies and barramundi will feed on seaweeds used to keep the water clean, while steam from their showers will provide for the mushroom wall.
“The idea is the building and the places you inhabit can be productive,” explains Stone. “We’ll be closing down the whole system in one building.” And yet, the good news is this closed-circuit system won’t be closed to all of us. Throughout their time in the house, Stone and Barrett will be offering restaurant style dinners to the public.
But the goal is greater than that. “Within the next ten years we hope to see this as a building design – the whole thing will fit in a container – it could go anywhere. All the plans will be put online, for free,” continues Stone. “So anyone can employ local people and make it their reality.”
If that’s the blueprint for the future, despite all we’ve gone through this year, it’s looking pretty rosy.