Co-founder Ema Šimurda Paulin on her award-winning farm-to-table concept
BY SABINE FUSS
(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 3 2018)
Traditionally, sustainable gastronomy has been deemed to merely mean the use of regional products. However, we have now taken this a step further – with the arrival of the Berlin-based restaurant ‘Good Bank’. Here, dishes are not just prepared freshly, some of the ingredients are also grown on-site. ‘Vertical farming’ is the new magic formula here. The futuristic-looking greenhouses behind the counter are used to cultivate fresh vegetables for in-house consumption. The two founders Ema Šimurda Paulin and Leandro Vergani came up with the idea for the concept several years ago. As a result, visiting Good Bank is not only a feast for the eyes, your other senses also embark on an exciting adventure. Ema explains the concept of vertical farming and the idea behind her restaurant.
How did Leandro and you come up with the idea for a vertical farm restaurant and what is the Good Bank name all about?
Leandro and I started to work on the idea for Good Bank in the summer of 2016. We looked very concretely at the issue of vertical farming and ascertained what was actually missing was direct access to this technology – not by various companies, but by normal people who want to actually experience this form of farming up-close-and-personal. Particularly in the restaurant business, in which so many obsolete or niche health-oriented concepts can still be found, it was clear to us that Good Bank should be a non-assertive place – for people who love healthy food. And that’s precisely what we have created! The ‘vertical farming’ is, of course, the most visual part of the concept and explains what we are all about: innovation, sustainability, artisanry (regardless of whether relating to growing vegetables, purchasing fabulous ingredients or the fact that our kitchen team prepares everything freshly on-site) and the superb quality that the natural vegetables harvested daily in front of our customers strongly represents.
How does vertical farming work? What does it require?
We farm vertically, which means in several layers over a relatively small footprint and using hydroponics – in other words, using water and not soil. The vegetables receive light from LED lamps and nutrients are added to the water. For this, we are working with Infarm vertical farm modules. Like us, Infarm is also a very successful Berlin-based start-up.
How efficient is growing food in your vertical farms?
Extremely! We actually manage to grow the lettuce for 70 customers a day at our own facilities, hence a substantial part of our daily requirements. Depending on the type of vegetable we are growing – and they differ in terms of weight – we manage to cultivate just over a tonne of green vegetables annually in the six square metres that make up our Infarm farm modules.
Sustainability is an important topic, particularly for the restaurant sector. What is the greenhouses’ situation regarding energy and consumption?
The restaurant business is unfortunately an energy waster. The additional farm modules consume barely more than other appliances used within the restaurant trade. Here, we are very much focused on using new, energy-saving appliances and lighting systems. We purchase ‘green’ electricity and know that we consume considerably less water than in the case of conventional farming thanks to the frugal hydroponics we use for growing our lettuce.
So, how do the fresh ingredients actually end up on my plate?
In general, it’s very simple at Good Bank. You visit us, let our futuristic space and environment work their magic on you, check out the current dishes or look at the DIY options. It is not just our home-grown vegetables that are exciting, our list of ingredients includes numerous organic items, fresh and roasted seasonal vegetables – chopped and prepared daily in the restaurant. Meat from controlled animal husbandry, unique dressings such as our crazy-delicious poppyseed vinaigrette and ingredients that we – no, this is not a typo – ‘singe’ in front of the customer using a miniature flame-thrower to achieve the smoky flavours. After ordering, which takes place at the counter, we note down the name of the customer and call out his or her name when the dishes are ready. Customers do not receive a buzzer or number with us, we believe in our innovative concept and that the proximity to the customer’s name and the closeness between our fantastic team and equally fantastic customers have to be maintained.
What types of vegetables do you grow at Good Bank?
Currently, we are growing two types of lettuce. We have to date grown baby green cabbage and are thinking about trying out more herbs and other green vegetables. In addition to the vertical farms, we also collaborate – in the form of the ‘Kiezimkern’ urban beekeepers in Berlin – with a colony of bees whose city honey will be added to our dishes on our next seasonal menu.
Do you first decide on a plant or a dish? What criteria do new dishes have to fulfil?
We have a very comprehensive gastronomic concept at Good Bank. We develop all dishes, whereby the inspiration often comes from something completely unrelated to a type of vegetable or another ingredient. The famous Good Bank vibe comes from the fact that we create simple, accessible dishes that I find truly thrilling. Frequently, it is also a specific, old or new technique or technology that animates us to develop new dishes – for example, fermented beverages such as our home-made water kefir. Exciting techniques, such as poached eggs that come out of the oven in their shells, for instance, or simply fulfilling customers’ wishes for a sensual vegan dish of a slightly different kind: our vegan truffle mushroom bowl. Ultimately, the vegetables that we grow on-site have to be seasonal and complement the dishes.
You have already received the coveted Deutscher Gastro-Gründerpreis 2017 (German Gastronomy Business Founder Award) for Good Bank. How does it feel to receive such an award? How proud are you of yourself and the restaurant?
Leandro and I spend thousands of hours developing Good Bank. We are are still very focused on making the experience better and more profound for our customers and Good Bank fans. We are proud, but we are not resting on our laurels – continuing to have a thirst for action.
What further plans do you have for Good Bank going forward?
Currently, we are preparing for winter; in other words, creating new dishes and more restaurants – furthermore, we are planning to finally expand our concept to include very exciting digital event components. But we will hopefully be providing you with more information on that very soon.
EMA ŠIMURDA PAULIN
Born in Croatia, Ema is part of the founding duo behind the ‘farm-to-table’ start-up ‘Good Bank’. The young, award-winning business unites farm, kitchen and dining table with the help of urban farming (vertical farms, urban honey) with its famous bowl recipes. Ema studied business administration at the Vienna University of Economics and Business and most recently worked in architecture and the electro-mobility sector. As a regular speaker at conferences, Ema has to date presented Good Bank and her story at the Tech Open Air Festival 2017 and the CES 2018 event in Las Vegas.
Picture credit © GOOD BANK/orderbird/Robert Felgentreu