By Julian Chua
Chef Lucas Glanville, the Director of Culinary Operations at Grand Hyatt Singapore, isn’t your typical chef. He grew up in Australia in a home with a vegetable garden and chickens roaming in the back yard from where the ingredients for family meals came. So, it’s no surprise that he brings his wholesome childhood food experiences to the hotel industry as a professional culinary chef, incorporating a full range of plant-based dishes on his menus and changing the way we see sustainable dining as a healthier and more vibrant alternative. I spoke to him about his passion for cooking and his hopes for more people adopting sustainable dining as part of their diet.
Tell us about your culinary background.
I started my culinary journey 35 years ago and have been blessed with the amazing opportunity to work at some of the best restaurants in the world, including Michelin award winner, La Gavroche in London, and Browns Restaurant in Melbourne, which is recognized as the best restaurant in Australia. Grand Hyatt welcomed me into the family in 2002 where I was tasked to drive the multi-sensory dining experience at their open-kitchen concept restaurant, mezza9, and I’ve been with the hotel group ever since.
In 2005, I relocated to Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok, where I launched the hotel’s first organic farm and refurbished all of its restaurants and event spaces. I moved back to Grand Hyatt Singapore in 2010 as Director of Culinary Operations, which is my current position, where I developed the hotel’s sustainable food philosophy - “Thoughtfully Sourced, Carefully Served”. I also led the way in the installation of the world’s first complete vacuum waste management system. Grand Hyatt became the first hotel in Singapore to implement the nose-to-tail program, which positioned it as a leader in offering plant-based dining options.
What got you interested in sustainable dining?
I see it as a duty to protect the planet for future generations by making sustainable decisions in F&B, especially on as large a scale as Grand Hyatt, where I oversee the production of between 3,000 and 5,000 meals a day. Moreover, I grew up growing organic produce in my back yard which made up most of the ingredients in the meals we cooked at home. Another huge aspect of sustainability is minimizing food waste by recycling, where possible, for other purposes.
For example, our food waste management plant has been converting 1,000 kilograms of daily food waste to organic fertilizers since 2016, removing the need for thrash bags and landfills. In addition, edible leftovers are vacuum packed and repurposed for non-profit organizations as part of our food donation program, which has been active since 2015.
What are the top three reasons to convince people to adopt a more sustainable diet?
Firstly, food is a finite resource, so we must make good decisions now to ensure that food shortages don’t occur in the lifetime of future generations. Secondly, as wellness continues to drive our food choices, we too must play our part in protecting the environment. We can do this by supporting food that has been sourced sustainably without any adverse effects on the planet’s ecosystem. Finally, we must not forget the importance of food as fuel for our bodies. Supporting sustainable food sources and balancing our diet with fresh greens, or even plant-based alternatives, will allow us to live better, while doing good for the environment at the same time.
What challenges and opportunities do you see in getting people to switch to sustainable food, especially here in Singapore?
It is encouraging to see more restaurants and hotels in Singapore drive sustainability independently. This has not only reduced cost for everyone, but it has also raised awareness of sustainable dining in Singapore. I truly believe that the dining scene will become more sustainable here over time, and we will continue to come up with more initiatives in sustainability in the years to come.
How have the responses been so far to your sustainable dining initiatives?
The response has been amazing for us. Our plant-based options have been very well received since 2018. We sell 800-1,000 plant-based dishes during our food truck launches, and our “Beyond Burger” outsells our regular burgers by a ratio of three to one at the moment. More recently, all 600 portions of our Heura plant-based Butter Chicken dish sold out within three hours at the “Purple Parade”, an event organized by the People’s Association to celebrate an inclusive society.
How can we make more sustainable food choices and eating habits at home?
The great thing is that many of these plant-based products are also available at local supermarkets, and we expect to see more in 2020. But beyond using sustainably sourced ingredients or plant-based alternatives, we must also be very mindful of the food waste we create – buy what you need and repurpose edible leftovers. Growing up, our parents would have taught us not to waste our food and it is sad to see that this lesson has been lost over time. Start with managing food waste and everything will fall into place.
What are your top three favorite Singapore food items and why?
A Nasi Lemak is a great way to start the day and it includes all the nutrition you need to get going in the morning. Not to mention, it pairs perfectly with a Teh Tarik! Another favorite of mine is Laksa, particularly at StraitsKitchen, where they are prepared using the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certified sustainable prawns, while proving to be a real comfort food. My third favorite Singapore food goes to the Pepper Crab – it is truly a flavor that you can only find in this part of the region and we never had crabs prepared this way back home – it packs a fragrant kick with every bite of the delicate sweet tasting crab.
What are your top three favorite activities to do in Singapore or places to visit?
I walk for an hour every day and enjoy a 6am walk around the district. It sets me up for the day and by the time I hit the kitchen, I have a clearly defined agenda of what I’m going to achieve. As a chef, I would recommend anyone to visit the local wet markets, to take in the energy and understand the local food culture at its source. I also enjoy the opportunity to visit local farms to listen and learn from our local producers.
What do you like about Singapore as an expat and why?
I like the multi-cultural diversity of Singapore; a hotpot of culture and nationalities with many opinions that everyone respects in harmony. Also, coming from Melbourne, we often experience four seasons in one day, which isn’t much of a good thing compared to the weather in Singapore, which is simply amazing and gets even better as it cools down in the evening. Lastly, the ease of getting to anywhere I want to in Singapore is just wonderful. With a very efficient and clean public transportation system, you can get to anywhere you need.
What advice would you give to expats who are working in the culinary scene here?
For visiting chefs, I recommend for them to get involved in the kitchen operations and own it by contributing to the success of others, sharing their knowledge and being humble. Use the time wisely and create a positive legacy on achievements, remembering that they are a guest in someone else’s country. Have a positive mindset and create solutions – you do not deserve to be here if you cannot solve problems.