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Vojtech Vegh on Opening a Zero Waste Vegan Restaurant

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About this episode

Episode 9 of The meez Podcast features Vojtech Vegh, a Slovakian-born chef and author of the book "Surplus, the Food Waste Guide for Chefs."  

Vojtech has spent his career dedicated to the pursuit of zero-waste plant-based cooking, helping restaurants around the world implement tactics to reduce waste in their daily operations, such as focusing on reducing waste when creating menus, and not while on the cutting board. 

In this episode, Josh and Vojtech go into detail about his background, explaining what it was like to work in professional kitchens for 12 years before opening the world’s first vegan and zero-waste restaurant in Cambodia. Vojtech discusses how he went above and beyond when it comes to sustainability, making sure all aspects of the restaurant were handmade, custom, locally sourced, and socially conscious. 

He also outlines his philosophy for the "black truffle mindset," which is the idea of being as respectful to a carrot as you are to a black truffle. Vegh argues that digging deep into an ingredient is so much fun for chefs and that one can do so much with one ingredient.

Where to find Vojtech Vegh:

Where to find host Josh Sharkey:

What We Cover

(1:50) Vojtech’s background

(2:18) Why he opened a vegan restaurant in Cambodia

(4:19) Is meat a luxury?

(7:56) What is zero waste?

(10:07) The challenges of going zero-waste

(13:47) How he planned for sustainability

(16:08) The black truffle mindset

(18:55) How Vojtech got deep into the world of zero waste

(23:47) Zero waste start with your menu

(27:11) Zero waste techniques for restaurants

(33:10) Why he wrote Surplus

(35:56) How to jump start waste reduction

(37:01) Who inspires Vojtech

(39:01) Food waste lightning round


Josh Sharkey [00:00:00]: 

Welcome to The meez Podcast. I'm your host, Josh Sharkey, the founder and CEO of meez, the culinary operating system for food professionals. On the show, I'll be interviewing world-class entrepreneurs in the food space that are shifting the paradigm of how we innovate and operate in our industry. Thanks for listening, and I hope you enjoy the show.


My guest today is Vojtech Vegh, a Slovakian born chef dedicating his career to the pursuit of zero waste plant-based cooking. I'll be honest, I had a very different perception of how this conversation will go going into it, and I was pleasantly surprised at Vojtech’s ability to be simultaneously pragmatic while still upholding this almost maniacal approach to reducing food waste and still making really delicious food.


He's the author of the book Surplus, the Food Waste Guide for Chefs, and now he devotes his time to helping restaurants around the world implement these zero waste tactics into their daily operations. One of my favorite little tidbits from the conversation was when we dive into what he calls the “black truffle mindset.”


To Vojtech, if we treat every ingredient with the care and respect that we treat black truffles, the outcome will inevitably be less waste. I couldn't agree more, but I also think that treating every ingredient this way is how we make better, more thoughtful, less fussy, more delicious food in general. I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.


Vojtech, welcome to the pod. 

Vojtech Vegh [00:01:36]:

Thank you. 

Josh Sharkey [00:01:37]:

Good to see you, man. We haven't caught up in a while. I think maybe just to kick everybody off, there's a lot of chefs, restaurant owners, things like that, listening among other people. So maybe, if you don't mind, just give me a quick background on yourself, how you came to be and what you're doing now.

Vojtech Vegh [00:01:50]:

Basically, as a zero waste chef, I've been working in professional kitchens around the world for the past 12 years, and then I also opened my own restaurant, which happened to be the first vegan and zero waste restaurant in the world that was in Cambodia. Since then, I wrote a book Surplus, the Food Waste Guide For Chefs.


She's used by many chefs at this point. Right now I'm doing workshops, chef training, and private cooking and just spreading the word around food waste and what we can do as chefs. 

Josh Sharkey[00:02:18]:

That's awesome, man. I wanted to ask you, cause I think I didn't ask you before, why'd you go to Cambodia to open a restaurant?

Vojtech Vegh [00:02:23]:

I used to travel out to Southeast Asia a lot back when I was younger and I kind of fell in love with that place - Siem Reap, Cambodia where I had my restaurant. I was comparing all these countries around Southeast Asia, like what would be like a good place for the restaurant.


And then I arrived at Siem Reap and was like, oh my God, that's amazing. Like there was such a community of local business owners and there's so many initiatives about waste producing and local activities and all that. And I was like, I love that. And that would be like a perfect part of the local community, that restaurant. So I decided that like, yeah, like I want to be here and do that. 

Josh Sharkey [00:02:57] 

Did you use a lot of Cambodian flavors or what was like the style of the restaurant? I know it was vegan. 

Voljtech Vegh [00:3:03] 

I wasn't really going to do Cambodian cooking. I don't think I'm qualified to do Cambodian cooking. That is much better for a local chef. I stick to what I call modern European cooking. Local ingredients all the time, but the style of the food I say is like a central European kind of thing. 

Josh Sharkey [00:3:13]: 

Why vegan food? Why'd you start doing that? 

Vojtech Vegh [00:3:15]: 

It wasn't supposed to be vegan initially, but it always was to be zero waste. That was clear. It has to be as zero waste as possible. But vegan just happened because of the unavailability of high quality meats and other animal products in Cambodia.


It was impossible to serve anything local. Organic food is non-existent in Cambodia but something local is. So, I ended up being like okay, I can serve eggs. That was an organic egg farm in Cambodia, but then it doesn't make sense to be an otherwise vegan restaurant and only serve eggs on the menu.


But then I, and then I could serve like bugs and spiders that they eat in Cambodia, which wasn't really that much into the insect cooking kind of things. I was like, yeah, let's just make it vegan. And ever since then, I just stuck to vegan cooking. I actually love the challenge of it, like vegan, a plant-based terms in cooking. I'm not vegan myself though, like I eat a little meat here and there occasionally, but all my cooking that I do, I try to be vegan. 

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