Now that going organic is a given, and restaurants proudly proclaim the provenance of their locally sourced ingredients, the next frontier in the world of ethical eating just might be found in…the trash can.
At least that’s how it looks, judging by the growing number of restaurants nationwide that are openly using produce scraps and underutilized cuts of meat in their dishes.
While the idea of minimizing food waste isn’t new, most chefs have traditionally kept their use of culinary remnants on the down low. “There are many restaurants that do this sort of thing,” says Celia Lam, a Vancouver-based chef, food sustainability advocate, and online instructor at Matthew Kenney Culinary Academy who developed a zero-waste module for the school’s Fundamentals of Plant-Based Cooking curriculum.
“So the ones putting [root-to-stem cooking] at the forefront are really exciting, because it creates the opportunity to show leadership around this really big issue of food waste.”
Keep reading to learn which restaurants are at the forefront of this scrappy food movement…
(Photo: Celia Lam / Salvage Supperclub)
Wildcraft in Los Angeles is giving the food-trimmings tactic some seriously positive PR with its new and ever-evolving “scrappy hour” cocktail list. Several drinks incorporate produce clippings from the kitchen that would otherwise be thrown out (think vodka infused with sugar snap pea shells), while the dinner menu features underutilized cuts of meat like lamb ribs, which are usually overlooked by chefs.
“For me, it’s really about 100 percent utilization of what we have,” says Wildcraft executive chef Bryant Wigger. “There’s a crazy statistic that something like half of the food produced [worldwide] goes to waste, so whatever we can do to help prevent food waste is a step towards fixing that problem.”
Also in Los Angeles, chef Phillip Frankland Lee of year-old plant-based restaurant The Gadarene Swine is doing his part to reduce veggie waste. “We do our best to use every part of the vegetable we can possibly use,” Lee says.
That means carrot tops are used as garnish, tomato drippings are upcycled into salad dressings, and other veggie trimmings are pickled, roasted, and dehydrated before being incorporated into a dirty rice dish. Everything plant-based is considered before it’s tossed in the compost for the on-site veggie garden.
(Photo: The Gadarene Swine)
East Coast chefs putting produce scraps in the spotlight—namely Dan Barber, whose WastED pop-up attracted national media attention in March 2015 when it challenged some of the world’s top chefs (think Mario Batali and April Bloomfield) to cook with pressed juice pulp, meat trimmings, and bruised produce, among other ingredients that would normally end up in the garbage bowl.
And with healthy fast casual restaurants now following suit—like Sweetgreen, which teamed up with Barber to introduce a veggie scrap salad (pictured) this summer, or Shake Shack, which featured WastED’s juice pulp burger on its menu for a single day in May—it’s looking like kitchen detritus is on its way to becoming the new “it” ingredient.
“It’s a really exciting time,” says chef Celia Lam, who last year hosted the Salvage Supperclub gourmet dinner series in New York City using “rescued food”—and served it to people inside repurposed dumpsters.
“There’s this celebrity culture around chefs—people look up to them. And when you have people like Dan Barber and schools like Matthew Kenney’s doing things that support food sustainability, that’s when we’ll see positive changes,” she says.
And, at the very least, we’ll have a few more dishes that are worth a double tap on Instagram. “Cooking with kitchen scraps has definitely heightened my sense of culinary creativity,” says Wildcraft’s Wigger. “It’s challenging to use every part of every ingredient—and make it taste good!”
What else is cooking? How about the fact that we’re in the middle of a bowl craze (blame smoothie bowls)...
(Photo: Celia Lam / Salvage Supperclub)
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