Menu Mix-Up: Bars & Restaurants Reusing Food Waste
Restaurants are responsible for 14 percent of global food waste but these U.S. establishments are turning edible leftovers into imaginative dishes.
Food waste is a major problem for Americans – a 133 billion-pound problem, to be exact.
Each year, about one-third of our available food – everything from just-expired yogurts to disfigured carrots – is thrown directly into the garbage. While waste skip bins are useful for rubbish removal, there’s no way food waste should be taking up so much room in the garbage.
This figure is frightening in the face of poverty: Reducing food waste by just 15 percent would provide enough to eat for more than 25 million Americans who lack access to adequate nutrition. It’s doubly important in the face of climate change: The discarded food in landfills accounts for a significant portion of the country’s methane emissions.
In October, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency declared that it was time to do something about food waste. They announced the United States’ first-ever national food waste reduction goal, which would challenge Americans to reduce these numbers by 50 percent by the year 2030.
And since restaurants are responsible for 14 percent of global food waste, chefs are taking matters into their own hands, coming up with creative ways to turn edible trash into dishes you’ll treasure.
Here are seven establishments that are prepared to make cutting-down one of the largest food trends of the year.
Chicago restaurant the Trenchermen has dozens of uses for discarded vegetable and fruit scraps. They scrub rather than peel their carrots and use the tops in side salads. Radish tops are used in pesto. Beet skins provide terroir in a red wine reduction that’s used on short rib, and leftover citrus rinds and juice are used to make lemon curd for cakes or a yuzu-based marmalade to dress the charred Hamachi with pickled daikon. www.trenchermen.com
When it opened in 2000, Blue Hill revolutionized farm-to-table cuisine by putting produce on a pedestal. Last year, the Manhattan restaurant took that devotion to the next level with wastED, a pop up that brought the food industry together to create gourmet plates from oft-ignored ingredients. A chopped salad made from vegetable scraps and chickpea-juice mousse, and veggie burgers fashioned from juice pulp with pickled cucumber butts were standouts. Blue Hill plans to continue wastED both in New York and beyond in 2016. www.bluehillfarm.com
At The Perennial, which opened in San Francisco in January, bar director Jennifer Colliau is employing a process similar to one used by gin distilleries to create flavored water from discarded lemon, lime and orange peels. Colliau’s team even rigged the ice machine to connect to the 5-gallon copper pot responsible for the distillation in order to avoid using extra water to chill the drink. The final product is mixed with vodka, then carbonated and served on draft as the house vodka soda. www.theperennialsf.com
“We have a zero food waste mantra in our kitchen,” says Chef Alex Rosado of the Stamford, Conn. restaurant Paloma. “With a solid mission and a little creativity, no food should ever hit the waste bin.” When he butchers fresh salmon steaks, he turns the bellies and tails into herbed salmon and potato tamales. Advantageous to the kitchen’s mission, the extra fattiness in the bellies with tomatillos, Serrano chiles, and fresh lime make a memorable tamale filling. www.palomagrill.com
44 North Coffee
Cáscara – the Spanish word for skin or husk – is the outer peel of the coffee berry. Typically, after the beans are removed, the peels are left to compost. But 44 North Coffee in Deer Isle, Maine, is among a mere handful of cafes in the U.S. that brews the dried skins to make a sweet and savory tea. Though Cáscara was brought to the U.S. from El Salvador, similar drinks have been brewed in Yemen for centuries. And yes, it’s caffeinated. www.44northcoffee.com
Saucy by Nature
“A lot of restaurants have lost the art of making a really good stock,” says Chef Przemek Adolf of Saucy by Nature. The Brooklyn caterer uses everything from onionskins to fish heads to make a rich soup base. The chef makes use of the surplus from events at his restaurant (which reopens in March under the name the Cynical Shnauzer). Chicken breast served at a wedding leaves honey soy wings for the restaurant and stale leftover bread becomes stuffing with apples and leeks. www.saucybynature.com
The Sportsman’s Club
The downside of offering a per-diem cocktail menu is that, most nights, there’s an odd quantity of spirits and liqueurs left over. But where other bars see a cost, The Sportsman’s Club in Chicago saw an opportunity. They combine the excess – usually a base combination of Zucca Rabarbaro, Luxardo Bitter and Cocchi Rosa – in an amaro machine with various extras, depending on the night. The result is a sort of structured chaos that’s become the bar’s trademark booze. www.damnfinedrinks.com
Christina Garofalo is an essayist and journalist whose work spans food, travel and femme culture. Her work has appeared in Paste, First We Feast and Robb Report, and she runs the blog Adventures in Frugal. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.