Martyn Odell and the world of Lagom Chef
Lagom might sound like an exotic mythical city in a book, but it’s actually an entire way of living for the Swedes. Literally translated from Swedish, the word means ‘moderate’ or ‘just right.’
Think of Lagom as the Goldilocks way of being – your food isn’t too filling, or insubstantial. It’s just about right, with minimal or no food waste to worry about.
We were offered a special opportunity to explore the concept of lagom and how it relates to healthy living through an exclusive interview with Martyn Odell, the founder of Lagom Chef. Describing itself as an ‘environmentally-minded nutrition platform’, Martyn created it to share a new way of cooking for a British audience.
A keen traveller with a passion for sustainable living, Martyn hopes to use the teachings of Lagom Chef to tackle the mounting piles of household food waste that leave our bin bags fit to burst. It’s a disposable attitude towards food that we simply can’t afford, both in an economical sense and an environmental one too.
What follows is how the concept for Lagom Chef came about, and what Martyn wishes to share with his followers.
A Swedish Goldilocks ideal
It all starts in Sweden. When asked about the origins of the name for his service, Martyn brings it all back to the ideals of a country with some of the highest life satisfaction levels on the planet. The average Swede gave a grade of 7.3 out of 10 in terms of general satisfaction with life, according to the OECD (an intragovernmental organisation with 37 member states, focused on economic prosperity and world trade). Sweden’s exceptional life score was found to be above the OECD member average of 6.5/10.
“I think I can blame that on my wife. My sister-in-law lives in Stockholm”, Martyn explains, “and she has a boyfriend who is Swedish. He had a business, and I was chatting to him about Swedish vibes. We love Sweden – they are always so chill, and know what they’re doing.”
Eager to learn the secret to a happy Scandinavian lifestyle, Martyn pressed his sister-in-law’s boyfriend further. “He was like, ‘Ah, because we have this sense of Lagom’…He said to me, it’s basically this philosophy of not too much, not too little – just right.”
Something about this concept resonated with Martyn on a fundamental level.
“They live in a very minimalist, simple life, so you don’t have all these excess stresses”.
For Martyn, the concept of lagom was like gold dust – the mantra he needed. Deep down, Martyn has a determination to cut through the chatter surrounding nutrition.
“If you get your calories right and you’re eating unprocessed ingredients, then you will lose weight and live a healthy life. That is what I’m trying to do – simplify nutrition in every aspect of what I’m doing.”
Doing things the Lagom Chef way
A casual glance of the Lagom Chef website gives you a clear idea about Martyn’s vision of the future – one in which food waste is reduced to a minimum, while we enjoy more nourishing diets as part of a healthier lifestyle.
“I’m just a normal guy, focusing on zero-waste eating. One of my favourite quotes that always came through was this: ‘perfection is the enemy of the good, because it will stop you from ever starting’…And I think that’s the thing I try to instil with people that talk to me.”
I think that, if I could be in everyone’s dustbin, and then shout at them when something goes in the bin, that would be great…but I don’t think that’s very hygienic!– Martyn Odell, Lagom Chef
Did you know?
The UK throws away 6.6 million tonnes of household food waste each year. Roughly 70 per cent of this waste would be considered edible, reflecting the gulf between what we buy in the shops, what lands on our plates and what we actually end up consuming and throwing away.
Through Lagom Chef, Martyn publishes easily-accessible meal plans that can be specially-tailored to the reader. Your age, height, weight and the frequency of activity you partake in are all assimilated to help produce a sample menu delivered straight to your inbox, giving you a taste of what Lagom Chef is about.
Perhaps a smoothie bowel of avocado and blueberries to start the day? One suggested way of making this dish takes little more than five minutes, with oat milk blended with the fruit to form the smoothie, before being topped off with a sprinkling of hemp and chia seeds as well as cashews.
Or perhaps something more adventurous – how about a giant couscous with aubergine and chicken? With the suggested ingredients offering a substantial serving going towards your five-a-day in fruits and veg, the meal is not only quick and easy to cook, as per the instructions – it minimises waste.
Martyn expands on the concept of zero-waste cooking in his own words: “It’s about being mindful about the foods and about what you’re doing. I’ve had people come to me and say, ‘Oh you know what? I’m not going to put that in the bin, because it can do X, X and X’ – I think that, if I could be in everyone’s dustbin, and then shout at them when something goes in the bin, that would be great…but I don’t think that’s very hygienic!”
Sneaking vegan cooking into the kitchen
One of the things that strikes you, when looking at the sample menu you can generate through your own individual requirements via the Lagom Chef website, is the paucity of meat-based dishes you will find. For every couscous with aubergine and chicken, you will find several other vegan-based dishes to fill you up for the remainder of the week.
To the typical omnivore, it’s a subtle shift from the way you might be used to cooking. To a vegan, the Lagom Chef cooking plans are right up your street. At a time when there are estimated to be 600,000 vegans in the UK, according to the Vegan Society, there remain some interesting debates to be had about the merits of a solely plant-based diet.
Readers may have heard about US pop star Miley Cyrus revealing she had decided to switch from being vegan towards a pescatarian diet, in an interview on a popular podcast show earlier this year. In her own words, the singer decided to make the change to ensure she could get the ‘omegas and essential proteins’ she needed to ensure her brain was functioning on top form.
When asked about the subject, Martyn is reluctant to label himself as a vegetarian, vegan nor even a flexitarian. He admits, “I eat a plant-based diet about 80-90 per cent of the time, but I think…I play a positive role in terms of when I’m going to get that food, then the chicken, beef or whatever – I will make sure I get it from a quality organic source.”
Martyn reflects on the smear that vegans are all just a load of hippies, saying, “I think it’s such a tarnished thing, and it’s horrible because I’m not a hippy and I eat vegan food. If we can educate [people] on how to cook things well, then I do think there will be a big shift away from meat eating.”
Touching on the limited meat-based options on the Lagom Chef menu plans, Martyn admits: “It’s almost a bit of a pull-the-wool-over-your-eyes, because there are really two dishes on each week that are meat and fish – the rest are vegan. So, it’s almost like tricking those meat-eaters through the door, then telling them you can eat a wonderful diet and get everything you need by just eating vegetarian and vegan food.”
Bringing your leftovers to life
With more of us working from home than ever before due to lockdown, it’s all the more important to make sure we have the right ingredients in our fridge to pull off a zero-waste lifestyle. Martyn shares his own ideas about how to rustle up some satisfying twists to your left over bolognese for lunch, which can have seemingly endless uses during the working week.
Chilli con carne – switch up a bolognese by adding some chilli powder to the sauce, plus kidney beans. Serve with rice and enjoy a Mexican-style chilli con carne
Moroccan tagine – to give a bolognese a Moroccan twist, take the sauce and add a bit of apricot and couscous. This can help you produce a tasty tagine
Baked potato – Grab a large potato, bake it in the oven until just right, then slice it in the middle to open it up and spoon the heated Bolognese into the gap, to create a filling snack
Plans for the future
Based on the feedback Martyn has received so far, the signs are encouraging, suggesting Lagom Chef will continue to go from strength to strength, despite the ongoing pandemic. “It’s been really refreshing”, he enthuses.
“People have said it’s really refreshing, because there is so much noise in the zero-waste eco-cooking world…No one seems to be like a mate, everyone seems a bit airy, but I’m not any of them. I’m your mate, I’m a person who knows how to cook, and I want to inspire you to be a normal person and care for the environment.”
Looking to the future, Martyn sees himself taking a more educational approach. On the Lagom Chef website, users can already link themselves to the Academy, an online portal where you can sign up to learn about the fundamentals of zero-waste cooking, including making a stock, poaching and how to really wield a knife to great effect on the chopping board.
“I would love to have a Lagom Chef cookery school and teach people how to be a bit more conscious…to be a hub for people to come to and be like, ‘Wow, this place is really chill’…I’ve always wanted to have a lovely café coffee shop, which is like a school where people can come, like the Google Headquarters, where it looks really fun.”
Martyn expands on the idea further, adding, “I’d love to have something like that…like, come on – let’s all come together as a community and use the space for free and learn something…if I get people on board with me and if you inspire people, then they will spread your message for you.”
Through this educational approach, Martyn is of the view that the zero-waste cooking he prescribes will cut above the noise and aid a more profound and lasting shift in lifestyles, rather than simply mimic the more quick-fix solutions that generate little more than a flurry of likes on social media.
Nothing too flashy, nothing too understated – just lagom, pure and simple.