Dan the Man – On a mission to be Australia’s first zero-waste caterer

Dan the Man – On a mission to be Australia’s first zero-waste caterer
September 24, 2017 Sandra Henri


Meet Dan the Man cooking. These guys are at the forefront of sustainable catering, will a goal to be zero waste by 2018. How does a catering company achieve this? Read on! Here is our interview with Ilana from the Dan the Man family.



The Dan the Man Manifesto

 Enjoy what you eat and think about how to make it tastier.

Experiment, play with flavours, try something different, do it seasonally.

Always meet a potential supplier face to face and smile when you say their name, they know a lot more than we ever could.

Get amongst it when we have quiet times. Our farmers aren’t far away, and team road trips are good for the soul.

Seek out likeminded eaters that would delight in our food.

Be a good host; every eater should feel like a guest in our stainless steel kitchen.

Think of ways to improve an eating celebration. Clients should get the best of our collective thinking.

If there are leftovers – share them, and share them wide, let nothing go to waste.

Be conscious of what we’re putting in the bin and spend good time exploring ways to reduce it.


Welcome to team Mindfully Wed and the LSMM Directory! Please tell us a little about the people behind Dan the Man…How would you describe each other? What makes you happy?

As corny as it sounds… a family with all its trials and tribulations. Dan is my brother in law (married to my sister) and because of that, an obvious family approach/attitude to business seems to seep in. E.g. we’re very conscious of when staff need time out, have a uni assignment to do, need to go for a surf etc. We make sure business accommodates their personal life and vice versa and we find ways to bring back retired staff in anyway we can. Nick who used to work with us is still on the group whatsapp. We can’t let him go.

Vicki (Dan’s sister) does our photography and my sister / Dan’s wife Bec is my best business strategy sounding board (she also has a business she built from the ground up and she has mine and Dan’s best interests at heart).
What makes us happy is doing good work, and sitting down to lunch everyday (made with kitchen leftovers) as a team. Tim’s wife Marija often joins with their three year old Charlie, and we always invite the other offices in the building to join. See – one big family.



What sparked your passion for sustainable catering? 

I’ve always been a public health advocate. That comes from my childhood sitting down to dinner and listening to my Mum and Dad talk about social issues that could be tackled better by the government. I’ve always worked in not-for-profits and/or companies that have a voice or strong opinion about what’s right. When I came back to Sydney for Dan and Bec’s wedding (I was happily living and working at an NFP in Antwerp, Belgium) Dan had just started Dan the Man on the side and I was really interested in what he was doing for the 2 months I was home. I ended up enjoying it so much that I never ended up returning to my job in Antwerp and we became business partners a year later. I knew that if I was going to be in the food industry and have my own business, I wanted to have a voice about our food system and that Dan the Man could be a vehicle through which we could really stand for something.



How much waste normally occurs at a wedding? How can venues / caterers help to reduce waste?
Our food waste streams include:
– food from people’s plates – lucky we make food that people devour but there is a small amount of food on plates that gets wasted. If we’re at a venue on a farm we can usually give that to the pigs / chooks.
– food uneaten from e.g. share plates – we always keep that and feed waitstaff / kitchen staff / put in take home packs for the wedding party / leave in the fridge for them the next day
– alcohol bottles – recycled by the venue hopefully
– cocktail napkins – we’re switching over to reusable hankies
– compostable disposables – unfortunately these go to landfill, we’re looking at an option to get compostable packaging back to our community garden to be composted, but to use the usual waste management streams it’s a bit of an uphill battle at the moment. Venues would be helping the problem ten fold if they had a composting system onsite.



Tell us about your mission to go zero-waste? 
A business exists in a community. It contributes to that community and it takes from that community and hopefully contributes more than it takes. If we’re going to be responsible players in our community, we have to consider every potential waste product as a wasted resource. If we’re not thinking about ways we can reduce our waste or reutilize a waste resource, I don’t feel comfortable owning a business.

Things we already do:

  1. green waste goes to Rose Bay Community Garden which gets turned into compost for their soil
  2. food delivered in cardboard boxes goes back to our suppliers so they can reuse them the next day
  3. catering leftovers go to our bellies or to OzHarvest
  4. compostable serve ware for functions
  5. paper/cardboard recycling and co-mingling recycling at our kitchen
  6. turn factory material offcuts into hankies as an alternative to single use napkins
  7. used cooking oil gets repurposed

Things we want to do:

  1. a memorandum of understanding with suppliers to use minimal packaging when supplying produce
  2. use a bokashi bin of sorts onsite to compost food left from guests’ plates
  3. apply for a council grant for a shredder
  4. compost used bamboo serve ware that we provide for offsite functions
  5. chef uniforms made from eco friendly fabrics that are factory offcuts
  6. find a way to get rid of gladwrap
  7. get some chickens
  8. compost bones



What are some of the key issues when it comes to sustainable eating?
– how far your produce came from (transport carbon miles)
– the resources required to grow your food (plant based far requires less input such as tree clearing for farmland, water usage and animal feed requirements)
– monocultures and big scale agriculture – we’re stripping nutrients from the soil and not putting anything back
– an ageing farming population i.e. young people not being attracted to farming so who is going to harvest our food in the future
– the amount of produce that goes to waste in our own fridges / pantrys



What are your top sustainable foodie tips?
– get a bokashi bin or a worm farm at home so green waste doesn’t go to landfill and increases CO2 emissions. The worm tea and bokashi juice is a great fertilizer if you have any plants at home. If that’s not going to work for you, find a local community garden that would benefit.
– get a keep cup or any reusable cup if you’re a coffee / smoothie fiend. There’s currently only one council that can recycle coffee cups, and regardless, reducing it’s need is far better than the resources required to recycle.
– make a trip to your local farmers market an enjoyable ritual or get one of the fruit and veg boxes delivered. You’re more directly supporting the farmer, and if you take your own reusable bag, you’ll be reducing the amount of packaging harder to escape at the supermarket.



What questions can couples ask of their venues / caterers to choose the most eco-friendly option?
Ask how they source their produce. Caterers that care will know. Ask what they do with food waste and packaging waste, such as if they give excess food to OzHarvest or to kitchen and waitstaff, give their green waste to a community garden / composting facility and have a recycling option at their kitchen then you’re off to a good start.



How can couples lower their carbon footprint through their wedding?
There are so many elements in reducing your carbon footprint. You’d probably go mad if you had to weigh up every option. We’d say have a think about what matters to you most, and see if your suppliers can accommodate.
E.g. if less meat is important speak to your caterer to design a less meat menu, if throwing out excess food bothers you, ask your caterer to package up leftovers for people to take home or if they can send to ozharvest, or if you want to reuse your decorations, put them up on etsy or speak to a stylist and see if they’ll buy it off you for future events.



What does living purposefully mean to you?

Everything. We couldn’t live without purpose. We wouldn’t have anything to wake up and get dressed for, to rally employees behind, to connect with external stakeholders on. Purpose is the #1 thing that has driven us to have our own business because we can have something that stands for something. We want to know that what we spend 40hrs or more of pur week on is something that will offer value to someone else, otherwise what’s the point.



You’ll get to sample Dan the Man’s creations at Mindfully Wed on 7th October. Not long now! Grab your tickets HERE.

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