With a name that loosely translates to discovery or eureka in the Shona language, Project Awana is a pop-up restaurant that draws inspiration from a number of cultures across the globe. With a passion for supporting sustainability, we talk to Tatenda Mutendadzamera, the project’s founder, on creativity, the environment and their ever-changing menus.
In your own words, tell us a little bit about Project Awana, what it’s all about, and the story behind it.
At its core, the project aims to foster the ideology of informed consumerism. Showcasing suppliers and producers who do things with a sense of personal, social, ethical and environmental responsibility allows us to engage customers in conversations about sourcing, providence, ethical and social practices and hopefully help each other get to a point where reactionary, thoughtless consumerism doesn’t dictate the mainstream produce available to us.
Having grown up in a culture where farm to table was the norm, it informed my ideologies regarding sustainable living. As overwhelming and exhausting as it can feel when we’re not well informed, there is a satisfaction associated to learning how to live sustainably. In the Shona language, Awana can loosely translate to discovery or eureka, which was the sentiment I wanted to help cultivate.
What do you feel you’re doing or offering that’s different to other restaurants currently on the scene?
I think as far as Highbury is concerned, we offer a modest, fine dining option without all of the pomp. Small plates that are well balanced in terms of flavour as much as nutritional value.
Sustainability seems to be a very important part of what you do. How exactly are you implementing sustainability into your work? Why do you feel being sustainable or at least being aware of sustainability is so important for people today?
I think a lot of waste is attributed to a lack of knowledge or understanding about ingredients and production practices. For example, less ‘sexy’ cuts like oxtail tend to be overlooked, which is a shame because they are immensely flavourful and it means we’ve not used the whole animal.
When you consider what goes into raising animals in terms of resources and labour, it’s in our best interests not to be wasteful. On the other hand, the price of cheap ‘fast’ products has come at a great cost to us. For example, with the exploitation of people, environmental damage due to toxic chemicals to force growth and animal cruelty.
Nutritional value is often dulled too. By making every effort possible to work with suppliers, producers and vendors that reflect a shift away from exploitative work practice, we implement sustainability. Like everyone else, I find that it can be a little overwhelming and frustrating.
Having menus that evolve and change depending on the seasons must offer a lot of room for creativity. Is that the case and if so, what is it like to have that room for freedom when it comes to food?
Seasonal cooking is definitely a perk of the job. It feeds my creativity and encourages a greater awareness of produce and ingredients. Being based in such a vibrant city also affords me a vast pool of inspiration.
If you had to give someone some advice on how they could go about supporting local farmers and producers, what would it be?
The obvious answer would be farmers’ markets or artisan markets. The internet is pretty awesome in being able to get access to farm drop schemes and small producers. I think most London boroughs have a decent corner shop that stocks small producers too.
Ask your local fish mongers and butchers about where they source their produce. They’ll often have a great selection of seasonal local products. Supermarkets have also been stocking produce from small suppliers and producers in recent years, which is probably an easier segue to start off with. On the plus side, having a meal with us takes the work out of it.
What’s next for Project Awana? What does the future hold and what can we look forward to seeing from you soon?
The aim is to get ourselves set up as a neighbourhood haunt. We’re aiming for later this year, so hopefully it all works out. Wish us luck!