Truth Love and Clean Cutlery is a new guide to choosing where to eat based on how good restaurants are – a guidebook to the world’s truly exemplary, organic, sustainable, and ethical restaurants, and I’m proud to have contributed to it.
Things have been even more busy than usual in our Siem Reap studios lately. I haven’t unpacked from our Bangkok trip a few weeks ago and please don’t ask me when I last washed my hair. Books, magazines, menus, press kits, notebooks, and receipts, are piled so high around me it feels as if I’m working in a cubicle.
Terence and I have so much going on I’m struggling to keep track of projects and I haven’t even had time to promote my upcoming culinary tours (and, yes, there are still places on all trips). But I am feeling a little relieved that one of our projects is close to completion, we’ll announce another shortly after its release, and we’ll tell you about some of the others very soon.
But I wanted to take a moment to share a special project that I worked on that launched recently. It’s one I’m very proud to have contributed to as it is rooted in things that are important to us, things that inspired us to start Grantourismo nine years ago: local food, slow food, sustainability, social responsibility, and the idea of ‘giving back’.
It’s called Truth Love and Clean Cutlery and it’s a new resource for selecting where to eat in the world based not on whether a restaurant is the best but on how good a restaurant is.
Truth Love and Clean Cutlery – A New Guide to the World’s Good Restaurants
As food and travel writers, guidebook authors, and for Terence also as a photographer, we have got to do some brilliant projects over the years that we’ve been proud of – from first edition travel guidebooks that took us to some of our favourite countries for months at a time to the yearlong grand tour that launched Grantourismo and our ‘slow, local, experiential’ quest back in 2010.
But like many writers, we’ve also worked on forgettable projects just to pay the rent – magazine stories I wouldn’t bother including in my portfolio, updates to guidebooks we’ve never even seen, chapters for books I regretted submitting to. But Truth Love and Clean Cutlery is a project I’m not only proud to have worked on, but have come to care about as if it was our own. And that’s because I think it’s an important initiative, especially at this point in time.
Alice Waters, Editor of the USA edition, sums it up: “Truth Love & Clean Cutlery provides a roadmap to restaurants that understand the importance of operating morally and sustainably… it is more critical than ever that we identify these sorts of restaurants around the globe. Because we vote for the sort of world we live in every time we come together around a table”.
So what is Truth Love and Clean Cutlery exactly?
Truth Love and Clean Cutlery – A New Way to Decide Where to Dine
Truth Love and Clean Cutlery is the title of a series of dining guides for Australia, the UK, the USA, and the World. I contributed to the World edition as an Asia editor, selecting 59 Southeast Asia restaurants in (alphabetical order) Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The New Zealand-based publishers are Geoff Blackwell and Ruth Hobday of Blackwell & Ruth, whose books have sold 30 million copies in 40 countries. Inspired by humanitarians (their authors have included Nobel laureates Desmond Tutu and the late Nelson Mandela) and social issues, equality, environmental conservation and food security, they have contributed over $4 million to non-profit organisations.
The Truth Love and Clean Cutlery books will be released in November and collectively they’ll showcase 1,250 restaurants from 45 countries selected by 57 food editors and writers around the world.
The website has just soft-launched (there are links to it throughout this post so I won’t include another here), although it doesn’t include all the restaurants that will feature in the book, as it’s an extension of a collective that chefs and restaurateurs can join.
Now I’m certain some of you are groaning and thinking: “surely the world doesn’t need another restaurant guide”. Well, Truth Love and Clean Cutlery is different and let me explain why.
What Distinguishes Truth Love and Clean Cutlery – How Good the Restaurants Are
Publishers Geoff Blackwell and Ruth Hobday describe Truth Love & Clean Cutlery as a “new, kinder dining guide” that “identifies restaurants and food experiences that go above and beyond great food and wine” to examine the “ethical, organic and environmentally sustainable ways with which they run their business”.
Restaurants have been chosen based on how good they are rather than whether they might be considered the best according to restaurant critics or the Michelin guide or whatever. They’re also not numbered and they go beyond the obvious countries with pages dedicated to restaurants in countries such Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam, which rarely get attention on best restaurant lists.
That means Truth Love and Clean Cutlery also goes beyond the gastronomic. While the guide still features inventive fine dining restaurants with white lining tablecloths, multi-course tasting menus and encyclopaedia-sized wine lists, you’ll also find casual bistros, neighbourhood eateries, and farm to table experiences.
Among my Southeast Asian restaurants, for instance, in Singapore there’s avant-garde Tippling Club and cutting-edge Corner House, which you’d expect to see, but there’s also lovely farm-to-table destination The Summerhouse. In Thailand, there’s chef Ian Kittichai’s superb Issaya Siamese Club, but there’s also the more casual Supanniga Eating Room and nose-to-tail 100 Mahaseth in Bangkok, and the off-the-beaten-track Samuay & Sons in Udon Thani near the Laos border.
In Cambodia, there are restaurants experimenting with creative Cambodian cuisine in Siem Reap, such as fine-diner Embassy, Trorkuon, Mie Café, and Mahob Khmer, but there’s also Sugar Palm, which offers traditional Cambodian home-cooking, hospitality training school café Spoons, neighbourhood restaurant Pou, and garden eatery Farm to Table, which has been a leader in sustainable sourcing.
What Unites the Truth Love and Clean Cutlery Restaurants
So what can possibly unite such diverse and disparate dining experiences?
As Jill Dupleix, Founding Editor of Truth Love and Clean Cutlery and Editor of the Australia edition says: “Every place we list serves delicious food. That’s a given. After that, our guiding principle has been the care taken by the people who run the restaurant. Care in sourcing the food and how it is produced; care in dealing with its staff, customers and community; and care for the environment, in terms of energy, waste, and water.”
The publishers of Truth Love and Clean Cutlery explain their motivation for taking this approach on the website so I’ll quote rather than paraphrase:
“For the past decade chefs and restaurateurs have been shifting their priorities to place a greater value on health, community, empathy and care, and supporting and sustainable ethical practices by farmers, producers and wine-makers. They are working harder than ever to cook with seasonal, locally sourced produce, reduce their carbon emissions and minimise their waste. At the same time, more diners want their money to go to good restaurants with good food run by good people. This guide aims to bring everyone together at the table.”
The Truth, Love and Clean Cutlery Selection Criteria
I know when the Truth Love & Clean Cutlery World edition is published I’m going to get asked why I selected X but not Y restaurant. I’ve long had my own criteria that I consciously consider when it comes to choosing restaurants. It’s not based on gut instinct, and it’s not subjective, it’s objective, which is to say it’s not about whether I like or don’t like a restaurant, but whether it’s a good restaurant that diners will enjoy.
But what’s tricky when you have a book or series of books with so many contributors from different backgrounds, all around the world, is that they will inevitably use different criteria to each other. Fortunately in this case the publishers established very clear criteria for editors to follow and after editors selected their restaurants based on that criteria, the restaurants were invited the to answer a rigorous survey to confirm our research and assumptions.
The restaurant survey was essentially a self-audit with restaurants having to provide examples of their sustainable practices and the ethical principles that inform how they run their businesses. They had to tell us things like whether their seafood is sustainably sourced, how local is their produce and if it isn’t (something that’s challenging in a city-state such as Singapore) do they know where it’s coming from, how they minimise waste, how they nurture their staff, and do they do anything to give back to their community. Some of that information got used in the profiles we compiled.
To quote from theTruth Love and Clean Cutlery website again:
“We cover things like energy usage, community and collaboration, seasonality of ingredients, and respect for the local region and its people. We put a value on things like accepting imperfections in produce and in people, producing one’s own food, optimising energy efficiency to reduce carbon emissions, reducing chemical usage, encouraging a happy and diverse workplace, working creatively to use what’s readily and immediately available, menus that provide alternatives to meat, and owners who consider the health and well-being of their diners. Being nice, tick. Being fair, also. Not being a bully, definitely. It’s basically ‘best practice’ for restaurants, encouraging change towards a more ethical, sustainable food – and dining – system.”
What we were looking for were the restaurants that ticked as many of the boxes as possible. I know the 59 restaurants I selected certainly have. I also know there are other restaurants out there that probably do, too, or at least come very close. But unfortunately books have page counts and publishers have budgets. Otherwise, I would have added another fifty.
I’d also like to share another element which impacted our decision-making for which there wasn’t any clearly defined criteria, but something I think we all had in the back of our minds, which UK Editor Giles Coren describes as the “spirit” of the project:
“The spirit of Truth Love & Clean Cutlery is something you can sense the moment you walk into a restaurant. It isn’t just about sustainable practice, organic produce, sensible energy and recycling policies… we know that stuff is important but it goes on in the background mostly. This is about that feeling you get when you step through the door and the light falls on the scrubbed wooden floor in a certain way. The flowers in a vase on the table with today’s newspapers on seem to turn and wink at you. The bartender looks up from polishing a glass and says, “Hi!” like they’re actually pleased to see you. Someone is chalking a ‘special’ on the board that is just exactly what you felt like eating. Nobody barks “Do you have a reservation?” They just show you to a table at the back, by a window with a view over the back garden, which is all they have left, this being a busy Friday lunch, and they say, “What can I get you to drink? We’ve got a house Bloody Mary we make from our own tomatoes…” And you know that everything is going to be okay.”
The Truth, Love and Clean Cutlery Mission
We have our ‘slow, local, experiential’ mission here on Grantourismo, which we developed in the year leading up to our 2010 launch, and that mission gives us a sense of purpose and direction, and it was the fact that Truth Love and Clean Cutlery had a very worthy mission that drew me to the project, but also the fact that a percentage of profits is going to different charities.
I’d like to share the Truth Love and Clean Cutlery mission with you:
“We are deeply respectful of how hard it is to run a profitable and sustainable business in the highly competitive world of hospitality, and we are in awe of everyone who uses their business as a force for good. That’s why we want the world to know about them.
Truth Love & Clean Cutlery is, we hope, a step in the right direction; helping diners choose a place to eat based on something beyond good food and wine. By choosing restaurants that have a clear mission to improve their sourcing, seasonality and sustainability, diners are endorsing ethical behaviour. By encouraging diners to spend their money on people who are trying to have a positive impact on the planet.
We value good food and good friends. We value time over money, community over celebrity and empathy over ego. We value the seasons and the rhythm of nature, and people who work with them rather than against them. And we value being able to dine together and to work together to shape the world we live in.
The restaurants you will find in Truth Love & Clean Cutlery are ones we believe in; great places that are trying to do the right thing; where the act of dining is joyful, and the enjoyment of good food is amplified and intensified by the obvious care taken from paddock to plate.
We live in a changing world, where our choices now dictate the future. At last, the deeply held beliefs of both diners and chefs are beginning to align and reconnect.”
I think you can understand why this is a project that I’m proud to be involved with and why I’m wishing these people the best of luck in changing the way people dine. Do click through to the links throughout this post to learn more about this timely initiative.
Where to Buy the Truth Love & Clean Cutlery Books
The Truth Love & Clean Cutlery guidebooks for the UK, USA, Australia, and the World will be released in November 2018 and will be distributed to good bookshops, gift shops and design stores around the world by Abrams Books and Thames & Hudson. You will also be able to order the Truth Love & Clean Cutlery books online at Amazon.
Pictured: image by Terence Carter of a dish at Mie Cafe, one of a handful of Siem Reap restaurants using almost 100% local produce that combine traditional Cambodian practices such as foraging, preservation and fermentation with European technique to elevate Cambodian cuisine.