Across the country, 40% of our food is wasted every day. Some of that stems from out-of-control portion sizes; some comes from the fact that expiration dates are overzealous, leading people to toss perfectly good products; and some comes from the fact that when we’re cooking – at home or in restaurants – we trash bits and pieces that are fully edible, if not pretty. Now, conscious chefs concerned about the issue are starting to make use of those food scraps.
From radish greens to carrot tops, beef trimmings to apple cores, food scraps are making a comeback in some of America’s most prominent kitchens. Here are nine chefs who are learning to get creative with what others would consider trash:
Greg Baxtrom | Olmsted | Brooklyn
Greg Baxtrom’s Olmsted sources many of its ingredients straight from the restaurant’s backyard garden in Brooklyn. For Baxtrom, the impetus for his effort to let no food go to waste comes from his time in the Boy Scouts as a child. “I learned that the only trace you leave behind in the wilderness are footprints,” he says.
Inspired by the challenge of turning scraps into something delicious, and informed by a rich professional background working under the likes of Grant Achatz, he has invented such dishes as the carrot kathi roll, which uses the byproducts of the restaurant’s famed carrot crepe dish. The recipe features a carrot juice kathi roll, carrot pulp falafel and cilantro stem raita.
Dan Barber | Blue Hill | New York
It’s tough to talk about food waste without talking about about Dan Barber. The James Beard Award-winning chef at Blue Hill is an opinionated advocate for food waste solutions, and his book, The Third Plate, argues that a need to use up ugly, unwanted or leftover food has been the impetus in the creation of classic dishes from bouillabaisse to coq au vin.
Barber’s foodie philosophy is veggie-forward and always finds a way to put scraps on the menu: his 2015 wastED pop-up event boasted carrot top marmalade, beet pulp burgers, and even beef fat candles. While many chefs have been inspired by these odds and ends, it’s no secret that Barber has turned cooking with food waste into a veritable movement.
Steven Satterfield | Miller Union | Atlanta
James Beard Award-winner Steven Satterfield’s dedication to seasonal cooking and support for local farmers are the drivers of his menu at Atlanta’s Miller Union. While he has long been aware of the problem of food waste, it wasn’t until Satterfield was working on his book, Root to Leaf, that his real interest in the issue started to peak.
“A lot of what I wanted to feature [in the book] was how to utilize every part of a fruit or vegetable,” he explains. “In doing so, I became more aware of ways that we can use the different parts and pieces that sometimes people don’t think of as edible, when in fact they are.”
Satterfield puts his staff to the test every night, challenging them to find ways to use up everything from fennel fronds to radish tops to the woody stems from leafy greens. Sometimes, they have to get creative: turning cherry pits into vinegar, using apple and pear scraps to make jelly, or even making a broth out of leftover squash seeds, whose fats and fiber thicken the liquid for something flavorful and moreish.
Paul Wetzel and Michael Anthony | Gramercy Tavern | NYC
Gramercy Tavern is home to one of the country’s most famous secret burgers, which was originally created to use up the scraps that stem from purchasing whole animals directly from the producer.
“The goal has always been to source the best products that we can,” says Paul Wetzel, the head of charcuterie and sous chef under Michael Anthony. “When it comes to buying whole animals you are getting fresher, healthier, and more traceable meat.”
The restaurant only makes between 20 and 40 burgers a day; they’re usually only available at lunch, and when they’re gone, they’re gone.
Jehangir Mehta | Graffiti | NYC
Jehangir Mehta’s New York City restaurant Graffiti boasts flavors inspired by his Indian and Parsi background, and dishes born of his personal foodie philosophy: sustainable, transparent and mostly plant-based.
“People talk about nose-to-tail cooking,” he says. “Here, we’re talking about how a vegetable can be done in the same format and the least amount has to be pushed into the garbage.”
Everything from veggie peels to chile seeds go into the restaurant’s house-made broths; used espresso is cold-steeped for ice cream; watermelon skin is pickled and served as a garnish to a variety of dishes. One star dish, inspired by Mehta’s pastry background, even uses unwanted broccoli scraps for a sweet, unctuous crème brûlée.
Jeffrey Stoneberger | 2Nixons | Charleston
Chef Jeffrey Stoneberger is the mastermind behind Charleston’s 2Nixons popup, which is hosted in breweries around the city. Known for his unique ramens and yakitoris, Stoneberger credits his time with Sean Brock at Charleston institution McCrady’s with his desire to find ways to use imperfect produce.
“Back then, this outstanding farmer would bring in this incredible arugula that had been ravaged by aphids,” he says. “It was the best tasting arugula I have ever had but didn’t quite look as perfect as it should.” They puréed the arugula and froze the thickened juice in liquid nitrogen – a moment that Stoneberger says “changed [him] as a cook.”
Recently, Stoneberger used up over-wintered broccoli in an innovative vegetarian ramen. “We tempered the bitterness by charring the broccoli and adding extremely sharp cheese that we emulsified into the broth,” he says. “It ate like the best broccoli & cheese that is so nostalgic of my youth.”
Alison Mountford | Ends and Stems | National
Chef Alison Mountford believes so deeply in the importance of reducing food waste that she’s made a career of it. Ends and Stems is a company devoted to helping home cooks plan menus, shop and cook without creating waste.
With experience gleaned as a chef at her catering kitchen and café, Square Meals, Mountford makes meal planning and cooking at home effortlessly streamlined.
One of her favorite recipes is “Stem Gratin,” which uses broccoli, chard and kale stems as the base for a cheesy casserole with potatoes and onions; another favorite is “fried rice and veggie bits” – one of the top recipes on her site.
Keith Lord | The Wild Thyme | San Diego
As the Director of Culinary & Operations at The Wild Thyme catering company in San Diego, Lord seeks to break common kitchen habits, like using only the white part of the leek or discarding carrot tops, and instead come up with creative ways to use these “waste” pieces.
His #nowastechef hashtag is where he shares his favorites, from flatbreads made from still-active mash from Malahat Spirits across the way to the his Tuscan Five Spice Blend, a concoction of dried bruised and ugly Kaffir lime leaves, the peels of blood oranges, bruised mint, the skins from vanilla bean pods and licorice root. “Over a seared scallop, HEAVEN.”
The creativity doesn’t stop there: Lord uses the bottoms of oyster mushrooms to mimic scallops, wilted microgreens in pestos, and beet peels as natural dyes for pasta. He even found a way to use up excess banana peels: braising them in adobado and using them for vegan or vegetarian tacos.
Eliot Hillis | Orlando Meats | Orlando
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Eliot Hillis is the chef at Orlando Meats, a whole-animal butcher shop with an adjoining fast-casual nose-to-tail restaurant serving everything from head cheese sandwiches to beef lo mein.
Ellis believes that eliminating food waste is the most natural way to cook: with nods to the age-old traditions of charcuterie and fermentation, Hillis is constantly working with uncommon food waste, particularly meat scraps, which he uses in house scrapple, souse and rillettes.
“I can’t really capture in words the beauty of a simple bowl of rice or noodles topped with ground and heavily seasoned trim (essentially a sofrito of sorts) finished with a bit of fermented radish or cabbage,” he says.
Pesha Perlsweig | Salvage Supperclub | SF
Salvage Supperclub in New York City is mixing up the traditional dining experience by offering a six-course meal in a dumpster! Founder Josh Treuhaft came up with the concept as a way to bring attention to the amount of food the average family wastes a year (up to $2,275 worth of food!) Check out his full story in our November Everyday Heroes feature out now. #everydayheroes #salvagesupperclub #dining #positivechange #inspiring #truestories #rdhero Photograph by Andrew Hinderaker
Pesha Perlsweig is the chef behind the Salvage Supperclub, a San Francisco-based concept dinner made entirely with salvaged food and served in a dumpster. Perlsweig’s background – influenced by her grandfather, who grew up during the Depression – has helped her to dream up the variety of dishes on the Supperclub menu.
“One of the reasons I love working with Salvage is the way I have to flex my creative muscles,” she says. “I think about the ingredient as a whole. What is it that I’m discarding and why? Is it edible? If so why am I tossing it?”
She notes that many oft-discarded elements of vegetables can actually be served with the more popular piece – just prepared in a different way. She gives the example of carrot tops, which she serves chopped atop roasted carrots with butter, honey, and cumin. “The bitterness of the greens compliments the sweetness of the carrot so beautifully,” she says.