From sourcing locally, to limiting waste and energy usage, and creating a nurturing working environment for staff, Mume restaurant in Taiwan is a shining example of what it means to be sustainable in the hospitality industry

From the moment co-founders Richie Lin, Kai Ward and Long Xiong first opened the doors of restaurant Mume in Taipei at the end of 2014, they were set upon supporting local, sustainable agriculture.

“We did this by limiting our choice of ingredients: no less than 95% of the ingredients we used had to be sourced locally. By showcasing the local produce and uniqueness of rare Taiwanese ingredients, we hoped to spread the message of sustainable practices through our dishes and dining experiences,” says Lin.

Today, the team maintains that ambition to source locally as far as possible while delivering a culinary offering that sees modern techniques and a Western approach applied to fine seasonal produce, dominated by fruit, vegetables and seafood, the latter caught by local fisherman off the extensive coastlines of the island of Taiwan.

The team didn’t stop there. Not only is fresh produce sourced locally, but tea, coffee, sugar, chocolate, rice and soy used in the restaurant also all come from within Taiwan’s borders. And local isn’t the only requirement. Farming and production methods are taken into account. For example, the local native-breed beef comes from farms powered by renewable energy.

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Drunken quail with coral mushroom and yellow wine at Mume
Above Drunken quail with coral mushroom and yellow wine at Mume

As the products make their way from source to the restaurant, various aspects of the food journey have been considered. When it comes to deliveries, for example, these are carefully scheduled to reduce transportation while packaging or lack thereof is key.

Within the restaurant, a reduce, recycle and reuse policy alongside a zero-waste initiative aim to minimise food waste, producing no more than two bags of rubbish each day. The team takes a nose-to-tail approach to proteins, using as much of an animal as possible and adding trimmings to stocks. More broadly, energy and water usage is monitored.

There are also efforts to create a sustainable working environment by “encouraging gender equality, job training on sustainable topics, treating staff fairly by setting various guidelines in the kitchen and work place,” according to Lin, who additionally is set upon offering staff a 4.5 day working week and paid training opportunities. Health and wellbeing is important and put at the heart of the staff experience—with expertise in nutrition, Lin provides healthy meals that also incorporate any restaurant surplus. The next generation is not forgotten either with Mume providing internships and other professional opportunities to students and graduates of Taiwan’s top hospitality school.

The ethos of Mume's founding members when it comes to sustainability owes much to their early professional experiences. Lin and Ward met at restaurant Quay in Australia working under Peter Gilmore, who is known for his love of plants and the importance he places on sourcing, while Lin met Xiong staging at Noma in Copenhagen, whose chef Rene Redzepi is highly regarded for his commitment to sustainability.

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Mume restaurant
Above Mume restaurant

“My experiences in Scandinavia inspired and strengthened my beliefs in sustainable practices, both personally and with regard to my F&B businesses,” says Lin. “In my opinion, there are no definite answers for sustainability. Every country or city has to find the best possible solutions and practices for itself, because there cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution.”

Lin has worked hard to discover and implement practices that work for Taiwan. “The F&B industry in Taiwan has changed dramatically since 2015, I personally think it is towards a much healthier direction. I think the farm-to-table movement in Taiwan that we heavily focus on pushing has sufficiently adapted across the F&B industry, and we can already see improvements on the overall supply chain due to the higher price and demand driven by the adaption of fine dining restaurants in Taiwan. The farmers are subsidised and more willing to try different practices and ways of farming. These are just some of the significant changes that we have seen from the industry,” he says.

There is always more to be done, but the dedication of Mume and the team recently earned them the Sustainable Restaurant Award 2022 from Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. Lin hopes that industry recognition will be the beginning of a broader ripple effect.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day. It is very difficult to push the idea of sustainability as a first priority for the general public because there are always economic factors involved, such as higher prices, cost of choice, opportunity cost, etc. However, there have been significant improvements over the years. We hope that awards like this will help our efforts gain more international awareness and help the government and more organisations allocate more resources to sustainability issues.”

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