Portrait of Mirko Buri

Vegetable saviour Mirko Buri

He has a thing for wonky veggies

Mirko Buri fights against food waste. To do this, the former Gault Millau chef buys misshapen carrots, overripe tomatoes and overgrown sweet potatoes and processes them into broth and mayonnaise.

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Monica Müller
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Huge sweet potatoes pile up in the kitchen of the restaurant «Mein Küchenchef» in Köniz BE. They are far too big for use in private households, which is why they never made it into the display of the shops in the first place. The orange tubers would probably have ended up on the compost heap if Mirko Buri (37) hadn’t taken them. Now it’s time to peel and chop! The 300 kilos are used to make 2,800 jars of Supermayo of the company’s own Foodoo line. The Foodoo mayonnaise deserves the «super» in its name, as it consists of almost 50 per cent of the superfood sweet potato. It contains very little fat and no sugar.

His restaurant is currently closed, but Mirko Buri is not running out of work. His five employees work part-time, while he himself and his brother-in-law Pierre-Yves Bernasconi, as manager, are in the kitchen every day. In addition to their own products, they prepare a lunch menu each day as a takeaway, using bulky ingredients from the region, products that the farmers would throw away without Buri’s commitment.

No tomatoes from China

Over the past seven years, Buri has formed close ties with 46 farmers in the Bern area. To stay on top of things, he has saved their details in his mobile phone using the corresponding vegetable names: Chrigel sweet potatoes, Päscu carrots, Ürsu tomatoes. Everyone likes and appreciates one another. And everyone is in constant dialogue with one another: What’s new? What makes sense?

This second question is what drives Mirko Buri. Using tomatoes as an example, he explains what does not make sense. He says he knows of no pizzeria that prepares its own tomato sauce. It is sourced from Italy. Italy, however, imports a large part from China. As soon as the Chinese share is less than 50 per cent, the product is considered Italian. «You’re ordering nonsense,» says Buri, shaking his head.

Last year, he processed 20 tonnes of tomatoes. His sauce costs three times as much as the imported product. In return, he can prevent a farmer from throwing away his overripe or tasteless tomatoes. Buri grills the tomatoes gently so that his sauce has a rustic taste.

Mirko Buri in the carrot field

But do the numbers add up? «You don’t want to pay more than 20 francs for a lunch menu,» says Buri. He wants to pay the farmers fairly and have fun processing their produce. «A challenge!» He masters this by preparing almost only vegetarian and vegan dishes. He rarely points this out, and his customers don’t notice: «Many think they missed the meatloaf on the lunch menu,» he says and laughs.

Those who eat regularly at «Mein Küchenchef» eat healthily. Buri talks about regular customers who sent him a thank-you note from their dentists. After three months of a lunch menu with less sugar, he says, it became visible in the plaque on their teeth. And managers of a nearby company asked the Könizer if he would like to take over their canteen. They had noticed that the employees who ate at Buri’s were more productive in the afternoon. Mirko Buri was part of a 46-man kitchen brigade at the «Gstaad Palace», cooked at a high level in Honolulu and Interlaken. How does someone with his background come to be happy about having prevented plaque and saved carrots in Köniz?

Mirko Buri talking to a customer

It all started with the birth of his son Nilo eight years ago. Buri wanted to lighten the load for his wife Manuela after the birth and started cooking for the family. He got his first crooked carrots from an acquainted farmer. His deluxe Bébé porridges sparked great interest among his friends, and soon he was producing more and more. Since his parents also wanted to eat well and healthily, he also precooked vegetables sous vide for adults and expanded the range to include whole menus. It was during this phase that Buri saw the documentary «Taste the Waste», and the gigantic waste of food stuck with him. «One third of the food produced in Switzerland is lost somewhere between being harvested from the field and being served on the plate. That’s 300 kilos per person every year, which is equivalent to a convoy of 40-tonne lorries from Bern to Madrid.It all started with the birth of his son Nilo eight years ago. Buri wanted to lighten the load for his wife Manuela after the birth and started cooking for the family. He got his first crooked carrots from an acquainted farmer. His deluxe Bébé porridges sparked great interest among his friends, and soon he was producing more and more. Since his parents also wanted to eat well and healthily, he also precooked vegetables sous vide for adults and expanded the range to include whole menus. It was during this phase that Buri saw the documentary «Taste the Waste», and the gigantic waste of food stuck with him. «One third of the food produced in Switzerland is lost somewhere between being harvested from the field and being served on the plate. That’s 300 kilos per person every year, which is equivalent to a convoy of 40-tonne lorries from Bern to Madrid.»

Together with his brother-in-law, he ventured into self-employment in 2014. Many people around him wanted to support him, so he organised what he called Foodoo Factories. If there were large deliveries of carrots that were too thin or potatoes that were too scabby, friends, acquaintances and soon even strangers helped him prepare them.

Three women preparing boxes of carrots

Foodoo vegetable bouillon at Migros

Buri and his team have made the Foodoo project known with their vegetable bouillon. The paste, naturally preserved with salt, is produced without flavour enhancers and palm oil, and is vegan and allergen-free. At the end of 2018, Migros Aare included the bouillon in its assortment, and today it is available in 80 regional branches. «Until now, we were mainly represented in the food waste scene. With Migros, we can of course make more of a difference,» says Buri.

Two jars of vegetable bouillon from the company Foodoo

Buri and his team have made the Foodoo project known with their vegetable bouillon. The paste, naturally preserved with salt, is produced without flavour enhancers and palm oil, and is vegan and allergen-free. At the end of 2018, Migros Aare included the bouillon in its assortment, and today it is available in 80 regional branches. «Until now, we were mainly represented in the food waste scene. With Migros, we can of course make more of a difference,» says Buri.

Working together against food waste

Cooperation with partners that use leftovers such as Too Good To Go, innovative packaging or a heart for wonky veggies: Migros is doing a lot to combat food waste. Read here what Migros is doing to minimise food waste. Each of us can also do something against food waste.