SYDNEY - Practically in the shadow of the looming, modernist Overseas Passenger Terminal on this city's Campbell's Cove sits Greenhouse, a temporary, pop-up restaurant built with recyled materials that is destined to be recycled itself once it's dismantled.
And that won't be long. The building, built in three weeks for an undisclosed sum and made of corrugated steel, bales of hay, glass and plywood and covered on outside walls with potted strawberry plants, will stand only until March 31. Then it will come down, its construction materials recycled and reused. Its principal designer and operator, Dutch-born Aussie Joost Bakker, will decamp to Milan to do it all over again - again using local recylables and byproducts and again running the next Greenhouse for just a matter of weeks.
Following that, Bakker, a tall, blond, blue-eyed man who lives in Melbourne and proslytizes for sustainability, will see where else he wants to take the resto-cum-bar-cum demonstration model. London is another likely stop. "We have an offer to do one in Trafalgar Square,'' he told me and several fellow U.S. journalists early this week. "That's a very interesting offer.''
Over a long black coffee and whole-meal breakfast cake, Bakker - clad in jeans and a t-shirt adorned with the outlined image of a red kangaroo, his two young blond daughters smilingly scurrying about - explained the idea behind Greenhouse. It's a place to grow, grind, cook and serve healthful, locally sourced food, he explained, in surroundings made of cast-offs and in ways that won't harm the natural environment.
My short time at Greenhouse - there's a permanent Greenhouse, in Perth, and may be a second permanent Greenhouse in Sydney later on if things can be worked out - gave the impression that it is almost more an idea of a restaurant than a full-fledged eatery. But then I wasn't there at dinner, and I didn't sample Greenhouse's 24-year-old wunderkind chef Matt Stone's most heralded concoctions, such as his way with Pacific fish mullet - a name I've always associated with a bad haircut.
We sat on chairs that Bakker made from aluminium irrigation pipes and ate off tables topped with reused billboards. Bits of philosophy, thank-you's and the restaurant's menu and drinks list were written inside on the walls. Natural light from the magnificent Sydney Harbour streamed in. Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House fairly glowed in morning light right nearby.
Bakker - variously described in press clippings as a floral artist, florist, artist, and architect - took a small hand-grinder made from metal and wood, poured whole-grain oats into it and began to turn the handle. Fine-ground oats fluffed out.
"We grind our coffee, why don't we grind this?'' he said, meaning: Why don't people do this at home. Of Greenhouse, he said, "Wheat, oats, rice - we grind everything fresh and make it fresh.''
A waitress came to our table with coffee, water and orange juice, all served in glass jam jars. Another server took a specialty of the house to another group of eaters - that well-known health-food, doughnuts. At least it wasn't the American mania for cupcakes.
Bakker shrugged when asked what set him on the path to sustainability. "I've always sort of questioned everything,'' he grinned.
He led the way up interior stairs to the rooftop garden. A bar stood at one end - it is, after all, Australia - and boxed borders of living green herbs bent slightly in the breeze coming off the water. The mix of vintage and modern architecture that characterizes The Rocks district was close-by on the foreshore. It was in fact, the Sydney foreshore authority that invited Bakker to install Greenhouse there at the water's edge.
There are no trash bins on-site, Bakker said, because leftovers and fuels at Greenhouse are reused.
"This is exactly the size of the average Australian house,'' Bakker said. "This whole building can be recycled when it's taken apart - it's a no-brainer.'' Of the roof garden, which produces vegetables and herbs for the restaurant, he remarked "It just makes sense to grow your own food where you live.''
"I use a very basic set of skills,'' he went on. "What was done 200 to 300 years ago? How did they get crops without using pesticides?''
Lessons from the past. What of the future?
"I hope,'' Joost Bakker said, "that people will do this 10 times better than me.''