Fighting food waste with dumplings04 December 2019
Interview with the founders of DingsDums Dumplings
Fighting food waste with creative dumplings – that is the mission of Ann-Kathrin Wohlrab (Anna) and Mauritz Schröder of DingsDums Dumplings in Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighbourhood. We talked to the newly crowned winners of the METRO Award for Sustainable Gastronomy about their motivation to rescue food.
Anna, Mauritz, you left your jobs in the media industry and started the DingsDums Dumplings project in 2017, why?
Mauritz: Basically, Anna initiated the whole thing. Shaken by the WWF study on food waste, she spent a lot of time in her private life exploring what she could do with surplus food in her fridge. At the same time, she was looking for a new and meaningful challenge.
Anna: Yes, exactly. I used to work in e-commerce and the focus there was on getting people to consume more and more. But I had reached a point where I wanted to use my knowledge and talent to promote sustainable consumption.
Mauritz: Anna knew that I wanted to start my own business and that I had some management knowledge through my training. Together we then worked hard on solving the problem of how to reduce food waste.
And then how did the idea come about to wrap rescued food in dumpling dough?
Mauritz: It’s been a long road. We thought about various ideas, but then dismissed them for reasons such as logistics or financing requirements. For example, we thought quite a bit about a fridge app that brings people and the contents of their fridge together – a kind of Fridge Tinder. Another idea was a cooking box with rescued food. But due to the spontaneity in terms of the available foods and their sometimes limited shelf life, it wasn’t feasible as we had imagined it. So we kept looking for the perfect solution.
Anna: Finally, the cooking box turned into a dough box – in other words, our dumplings. Mauritz’s sister came up with the original idea. She is a dumpling aficionado and has already experimented with unusual fillings for dumplings, such as black pudding. This proved to us that dumplings go perfectly with very different rescued foods and thus allow us a great deal of spontaneity. Because we never know exactly what food will be left over tomorrow. In addition, it is easy to freeze and thus preserve dumplings. After freezing and then preparing them, they are even tastier and juicier.
Where do you get the produce that you fill the dumplings with?
Mauritz: We purchase some of the basic ingredients such as flour and spices conventionally. But about 80 to 90% of the food we use is salvaged. For this purpose, we check at our partners such as the SIRPLUS stores, but also at conventional wholesalers such as METRO, at vegetable markets or friendly restaurants to see what is left over there, but still of impeccable quality. These are then turned into our various dumpling fillings and sauces with a lot of creativity.
Anna: Sometimes we come up with creations that we never thought would work. But that’s the great thing. Salted herring was quite the challenge one time. So, we pondered for a long time what to do with it. In the end it turned out to be kind of a muffin from a dough with crushed rye bread. We filled it with the things you traditionally eat with salted herring: onions, pickles and beetroot. We steamed it and served it with a piece of salted herring on top and a dollop of dill sauce – it was a hit.
What’s the motivation of your guests to come to DingsDums Dumplings – is it about doing something good or just eating delicious dumplings?
Mauritz: Our audience is very mixed. Some have been here before and therefore know what we do and what to expect. Others simply come because they read dumplings on the menu or they found us on Google Maps. There are also guests who drop by because they see us on TV and love our idea. In the end, the ratio is about 50:50. What makes us particularly happy is when we get to talk to our guests about what we are doing here. Like a mother who came to our restaurant for her daughter’s birthday lunch. Food waste had been a topic at her daughter’s school and she was very interested in what we were doing and wanted to try out the dumplings.
Last year you won the “Too Good for the Bin” national award and now you are the new winners of the METRO Award for Sustainable Gastronomy. How important are these kinds of awards to you?
Mauritz: Personally, awards like these are extremely meaningful to me, because they give you recognition for what you do beyond your own bubble – family, friends, guests. It’s truly something special when restaurateurs like Christian Rach at the “Too Good for the Bin” national award or people who know the whole scene well and whom you actually look up to, when these people say: “You did great, that’s awesome, you’re on the right track.” This gives us more power and motivation in addition to the feedback we get from our guests.
As a young business, we are also happy about every media hype, all the media attention and of course that’s what awards like this one also offer. The more people become aware of the issue of food rescuing and our restaurant, the better!
Anna: Moreover, with this kind of award we reach the middle of society: Everyone knows METRO, everyone also knows the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture. This gives us more visibility, more credibility and also helps us to approach new partners with whom we want to rescue food. Especially at the beginning we heard this a lot: “Yeah, yeah, weirdos!” That has completely changed. We continue to work on this change of consciousness. We want to make it cool to rescue food – with a cool product.
Do you think restaurants with a focus on avoiding food waste will soon be emulating you?
Anna: Yes, absolutely, you can already see that when you’re scrolling through social media. There’s a lot of interesting companies popping up that rescue food. And in the restaurant trade, sustainability has basically always been an issue. Every restaurant owner looks at how he can work economically, trying to make the most of the ingredients he has bought. After all, this is one of the main cost factors.
What do your own plans look like? Will there soon be dumpling restaurants in other Berlin neighbourhoods or even other cities?
Mauritz: We value organic growth and fortunately have no one standing behind us with a whip, which means we can set our own pace. In any case, in the future we will definitely try to further expand our B2B business. We are also looking into the possibility of selling our dumplings frozen via an online shop, here out of the store. There are also one or two projects which, unfortunately, are not quite definitive yet. But I’m sure you’ll hear from us again next year.
We will definitely continue to rescue food. Since opening the store and including our catering, we have saved just under two tonnes of food – that’s an enormous incentive for us!
Finally, the most important question: Which is your favorite dumpling?
Anna: All of them!
Mauritz: That’s really hard to say. I actually have a new favorite every week. It’s also not worth mourning your favourite dumpling when there’s a change. The next one is so delicious straightaway that you can quickly overcome the pain of loss.
Excellent final words! Thank you very much for the fascinating conversation and good luck!