Lessons In Leftovers
Chefs are working toward zero-waste by repurposing food scraps into viable dishes.
In June, five of the top Bay Area chefs collaborated on a “Waste Not, Want Not” dinner, held at The Perennial in San Francisco. Organized by the Natural Resources Defense Council (nrdc), the benefit had a two-fold goal: to raise money and to showcase a stellar meal made largely using leftover foods.
The chefs—Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn, Nick Balla and Cortney Burns of Bar Tartine, Traci Des Jardins of Jardinière, and Chris Kiyuna of The Perennial—each prepared an appetizer and an entrée, and Chef Kiyuna prepared a dessert.
During the event, the chefs talked to guests about the food and the chefs’ personal philosophies about food waste.
The Perennial, which hosted the event, has only been open since January, but already the restaurant has been very passionate and creative in using food scraps to make other dishes. In fact, the restaurant’s owners, Karen Leibowitz and Anthony Myint, say minimizing food waste speaks to an operation that is “environmentally sustainable.”
Using up leftover food is nothing new, but the practice has largely gone out of favor for convenience. However, following close on the nose-to-tail trend, which encourages using every part of an animal, many chefs are aiming to reduce, or eliminate, waste.
“When restaurants see that food costs aren’t where they should be, the [operator] should realize the restaurant should be using leftovers,” says New York City restaurant consultant Arlene Spiegel. “It makes sense to use leftovers, and if you’re an independent restaurant, you can be creative with waste.”
Beyond food costs, another benefit to using leftovers is that it helps save the planet. On a global scale, a third of the world’s food is lost or wasted, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. This amounts to a whopping 2.8 trillion pounds of grub. Far from detracting customers, the use of leftovers is turning them on, especially those who take an interest in the future of our planet, a cause that especially appeals to millennials.
“It used to be we would hide this, but today if we highlight [using leftovers], it makes us a better restaurant,” says Gregg Rapp, a menu engineer based in Palm Springs, California.
Meeting the Challenge
“It’s important to stop thinking about things as waste, and [instead] see leftovers as other kinds of ingredients,” says Leibowitz, co-founder of The Perennial. Two of her favorite dishes incorporating leftovers are a fava bean toast and a cauliflower toast, both made using day-old bread.
The former is topped with whole fava beans and underneath is a pesto made from fava bean shells, chard, and dill. Additionally, the fava beans are cooked in a stock made from leftover cheese rinds so there’s a hint of cheese. “It gives it a depth of flavor, and we’re using the whole fava bean,” she says. For the cauliflower toast, the vegetable’s stems are puréed and served as a bottom layer under roasted and pickled cauliflower. “It’s fun to think about vegetables in the same way as we are looking at animal proteins,” Leibowitz says.
The Perennial even puts its coffee grounds to good use. It steeps them in buttermilk, left over from butter making, then strains the milk, and makes crème fraîche from it. The restaurant serves this crème fraîche over chicory and peas as an appetizer. “This is a spring dish,” says Leibowitz, “and it has the nuttiness of the coffee and chicory, along with creaminess and the peas.”
Chef Kiyuna, The Perennial’s head chef, gets a kick out of all this creativity. “You’ll have a lot of things that are not a success, and you also need a lot of patience,” he says. “It’s challenging, but it’s an exciting challenge, and it’s really fun when things work out.”
The three Founding Farmers restaurants in and around Washington, D.C., also pride themselves on cross-utilization. “It’s rare when we have something that has a one-time use,” says managing partner Mary Carter. “It’s about making sure your menu has a lot of options for what you’re doing, and being as creative as you can.”
The restaurants use up the rinds of oranges that have been juiced for the bar program to make orange marmalade. They cook the rinds down with different flavors such as vanilla or cranberry. “It took us about a year to get the marmalade base to where we could use it,” Carter says.
Even red velvet cake tops are put to good use. After they’re sliced off—in a process to make the top of the cake even—they are left to dry for about 30 minutes, then crumbled and used with icing to decorate the sides of the cake “and add more chocolatey flavor and texture,” Carter says.
TAG Burger Bar in Denver uses vegetable scraps in its house-made veggie burger. Although the restaurant offers a seasonal menu, chef and owner Troy Guard uses the year-round vegetable scraps such as carrots, tomatoes, celery, and mushroom stems so the product remains consistent. Day-old carbohydrates such as farro, rice, and quinoa bulk out the patty.
Other restaurants in the TAG Restaurant Group also use vegetable scraps in fried rice or ravioli fillings, he says. These are often the more seasonal vegetables and because of this, these “leftover” dishes appear to be timely.
At bubu, Chef Guard’s newest restaurant in Denver, beets, ginger, and carrot are juiced. This leaves a lot of excess fibers, he says. Guard dries these “low and slow in the oven” and makes powders that he adds to pasta doughs for different colors. Or he grinds up the dried vegetables more roughly and sprinkles the product on top of salads, which adds texture, color, flavor, and nutrition.
Chef Aaron Meneghelli oversees the culinary program for the Carneros Resort and Spa in Napa, California, which has three restaurants. Carrots are a great example of Meneghelli’s versatility. He uses roasted carrots in many dishes and has several uses for the leftover parts: He juices them and then cooks carrots in the carrot juice to create a carrot sorbet for lobster carpaccio. He ferments leftover pulp from juiced carrots and makes it into a vinegar for vinaigrette, and then there’s the ubiquitous carrot-top pesto, which he serves over roasted carrots.
This past spring he also made some green garlic powder from leftovers. He dehydrated them in a gas oven that was turned off—so it was 75 to 100 degrees F—for two days, which prevents oxidization and keeps the leaves green. When they were dry and brittle, he ground them up in a spice grinder. He also dries mushroom stems and ramp leaves. All of these powders can be used as seasonings for beef, or folded into aioli or even sprinkled on dishes as a finish.
“It’s terrific to see more chefs starting to use parts of plants we think are unusable, and it exhibits a real level of creativity,” says JoAnne Berkenkamp, senior advocate in NRDC’s food and agriculture program. The NRDC works to educate consumers on food waste. This past spring it launched a Save The Food campaign with the Ad Council, the first national campaign to reduce food waste among consumers. “Often we’re throwing out some of the healthiest parts of the plant so it’s great that they’re pushing the envelope,” she says. “Chefs can be such fantastic catalysts for consumers to think about what’s possible in their kitchens.”
Desserts Deliver Options
No scraps are too small or inconsequential for Café ArtScience in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the fleurie de crêpe dessert—with rhubarb granita and cherry honeycomb crunch—which was on the menu this spring, is a great example.
Pastry chef Renae Connolly uses every part of the rhubarb. Before the fruit is steeped to make the granita, she peels its skin and makes a crystallized rhubarb tuile with it to use as a garnish for the dish.
Any other scraps go into purées or jams, or the restaurant’s bar blends them into ice cubes.
Chef Connolly also compresses brunoise-cut rhubarb scraps in a vacuum bag, as well as cucumber done in the same way, then mixes the two together to make a fruit salad garnish for the crêpe dish.
“We use good products, but we want to be aware of our costs and not waste anything,” Connolly says. “We also want to be an experimental restaurant and, over time, we are learning new things. It’s easy to get stuck using things in the same ways, so this pushes you to be creative and to find new techniques.”
For instance, Concord grapes are very versatile, too, she says, and having a centrifuge at the restaurant “allows us to take things that would be one ingredient and break it into different parts. So I can use a solid and a liquid.” This means zero waste for these local fruits.
Connolly takes fresh grapes, cooks them with a little sugar, and then blends that mixture and strains it through a chinois. She then spins the mixture in the centrifuge to separate it by density. The lighter liquid rises to the top, while the heavier pieces of sediment (mostly grape skin particles that are used for grape jam, fruit jellies, and in the bar program), sink to the bottom. She uses the lighter liquid from the top to make grape “bubbles” that she serves as a garnish for the peanut butter and jelly dessert. “It’s an explosion of grape when people bite into it and it pops in their mouth,” she explains.
Another pastry chef, Zac Young, at Craveable Hospitality Group in New York City, also has a leftovers policy. “In pastry we end up with a lot of waste from production, from cutting things down, or from things breaking,” he says. “Because [these ingredients] and labor are expensive, we want to make sure we are using all of it.”
Young turns scraps from classic American layer cake into cake pops: He mixes the scraps with frosting and mousse, shapes it all into balls, sticks in a lollipop stick, and dips it in tempered chocolate. Or, he’ll cut it into shapes to use as petit fours, enrobed in chocolate or glazed. “This speaks to cross-utilization,” he says. “We want to be able to use the same thing in different ways.”
Leftover chocolate garnish, or tempered chocolate, is also repurposed. He melts it and makes a ganache, or breaks it up and adds it to cookies and brownies. Even leftover mousse doesn’t go to waste. “You can melt it down and it can go into an ice cream base, or become a filling for hollow truffle shells, or become a liquid center,” Young says. “You don’t want to rewhip it because it changes the texture.”
Using leftovers can be viewed two ways: There are those—hello, millennials—who embrace it and applaud that it’s being done; and others who turn their nose up at the thought of eating mere kitchen scraps.
Founding Farmers does not make a production over using leftovers. “We consider this practice as part of our sustainability,” says Carter. “It was never a question of whether we should or should not. To us, this is standard operating procedure, not something that is above and beyond. I don’t think we should get credit for doing it as much as we should be held accountable for not doing it.”