The Sustainable Bartender Turning Food Waste Into Taste
Renato Tonelli is on a mission to reduce food waste from bars, restaurants and households by crafting delicious drinks - using food scraps and other sustainable practices. Learn more about what excites Renato about the hospitality industry and how he incorporates sustainability into his drinks and consulting business. Our own Alex D caught up with Renato for a Q&A and some tips on how to make a Sustainable Tepache Mule.
What interested you in bartending and the hospitality industry?
I was always intrigued about bartending as a profession from a young age, primarily because I saw it as a job that keeps you socially engaged and physically active. Having been an introvert, I thought that by working as a bartender I could come out of my shell, have fun, and get paid for it as well! Not to mention I could really use the cash and free knockoff at the end of the night :D
What does sustainability mean to you when it comes to the industry as a whole, and then into making cocktails?
Sustainability means 2 things to me: When it comes to the environment it means keeping our planet as healthy as possible. When it comes to business, it means establishing systems that keep everything running in a functional manner. I try to make my teachings touch on these two meanings.
Cocktails are one of the best sustainable items to make at home or in a bar/restaurant because they can reuse leftovers that can’t be eaten while making money. Food waste is difficult to consume when in solid form, but by transforming it into liquids they become mixable.
It’s much easier to liquefy and drink a days’ worth of leftover citrus husks rather than having to eat them!
You’ve traveled and lived in many places like NYC, Rome, and Melbourne, what are some of the interesting similarities and differences each place has in their approach to sustainable bartending and how has each place influenced your work as mixologist over the years?
My hometown in New York taught me the ropes of bartending. I learned how to perfect my classic cocktails and how to make twists out of them.
Rome taught me the art of making the craft of bartending esthetically beautiful and pleasing to the eye. Some of the most elegant bartenders I’ve ever met are from Italy.
Melbourne gave me the unique treat of working with bushfoods and native Australian plants. It was a unique experience that can’t be learned anywhere else on the planet.
New York, Rome, and Melbourne all left a mark on me in many different ways. When it comes to sustainable bartending, Melbourne and Australia, in general, are way ahead of most places around the world, but to my knowledge, NYC is making lots of headway.
Italy in general still has a long way to go, but it’s from places like these where there is a lot of opportunity for growth.
What’s your favorite cocktail to make right now? Either something seasonal or a classic, or both!
That’s a hard one to answer, and I would have to say that it depends on the season! I like the stirred down boozy cocktails in winter and the shaken light refreshing ones in summer. If I had to choose my favorite seasonal cocktail it would have to be my Watermelon Rind Aperol Spritz, which is very light, refreshing, and perfect for summer.
My favorite classic cocktails are Dirty Martinis and Negronis.
How To Make A Sustainable Tepache Mule - By Renato Tonelli
There are a ton of straw options out there now and I’m sure you’ve used many of them. What’s your take so far on HAY! Straws so far compared to the others?
I’m really impressed with HAY! Straws durability. I’m not a huge fan of paper, metal or glass but there are many other biodegradable straws out on the market. The problem with them is that they break very easily. That’s what really sets HAY! Straws apart from every other straw I tried. I was particularly impressed with the sturdiness of the Stir Sticks!
What is it to be a mixologist and how do you implement sustainable practices into creating awesome cocktails? I’m all about not only taste but presentation and you make some wonderful looking drinks - is that something that’s very important to you?
The sustainable practices I use to make cocktails are the same practices mixologists use.
Some of these techniques include: Dehydration, Fermentation, Infusing, Syrup & Shrub making and Carbonation just to name a few. I simply try to understand what typical food waste produce would taste like and implement a technique to transform it into something interesting, tasty, and new!
Presentation is extremely important when it comes to my cocktails. A cocktail must look appealing before the guest tastes it. After all, the first taste we have is with our eyes
As a fellow mixologist, I love the service aspect of the industry as well. How does that play into your work? What else do you find fun and amusing while serving a customer?
I always try to understand who I have in front of me. Is it someone who is looking for deep conversations, small talk, or solitude? Are they looking to experience something new or go with what they are comfortable with? Am I dealing with a single person, a family, a group of friends, a couple, or people on a first date? Each scenario demands a different kind of interaction. Understanding my customer as fast as possible is the 1st step to executing a great service.
I enjoy seeing the customers' reactions when I’m working. A lot of my drinks will have an interesting presentation to them or a particular kind of execution. Just looking at people smiling at what I do makes me enjoy my work.
Any other exciting news you want to share with us?? What’s next for Renato and Sustainable Bartender?
My main goal as of now is to make every bartender a sustainable bartender. It is my job to equip them with the techniques and strategies to reduce the world's food waste from bars, restaurants, and households. Along with that, I have dreamed of opening my own school and laboratory where I can not only teach, but also help transform leftover foods into consumable beverages.
You can learn more about Renato The Sustainable Bartender and get more recipes here.