The zero-waste movement gained force in the industry when chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill restaurant in New York City launched his WastED pop-up in 2015, offering tasty ways to repurpose food scraps into burgers, salads, fish and chips and other dishes. He and others brought awareness to the alarming statistic that nearly half of the U.S. food supply ends up getting dumped, according to Feeding America, a hunger relief organization.
Producers, farmers and other food suppliers are now partnering with restaurants nationwide to rescue this trash, offering up bruised and misshapen produce, overripe fruit, spent grain, whey from cheese-making and other ingredients that normally would be tossed. And operators are redoubling efforts to save vegetable peels and stems, meat trim and other discards to turn them into inventive dishes and drinks. Here are four of the more unique edible solutions to the waste problem.
1. Rich rewards
Salt & Straw, a 10-unit ice cream concept based in Portland, Ore., launched a limited-time menu of 15 seasonal flavors featuring rescued food. Taylor Malek, Salt & Straw’s co-founder and head ice cream maker, partnered with about 20 farmers, produce distributors, brewers, local nonprofit food recovery organizations and even grocery stores and a movie theater (for popcorn) to procure products that would normally go to waste. The ice cream flavors included lemon curd and whey, celery root and strawberry celery leaf jam (using overripe berries), and bourbon-distilled cherries ambrosia (made with boozy cherries leftover from whiskey-making blended with vegan mayonnaise). The rescued ice creams ran as a seasonal special this summer, with staff relating the story behind each flavor to build awareness of food waste and childhood hunger.
2. Trash-talking tiki cocktails
Waste took on a tiki theme at Houston’s Ninja Ramen in July and New York City’s Mission Chinese Food in August—two restaurants taking part in a Trash Tiki pop-up in which mixologists created cocktails made with ingredients that typically end up in the garbage. Trash Tiki is the brainchild of London bartenders and sustainability advocates Kelsey Ramage and Iain Griffiths, who are taking the concept on an anti-waste tour to bars in the U.S. and abroad, sharing recipes for apple pulp whiskey sours, citrus stock mixers (made with squeezed lemon, lime, orange and/or grapefruit shells) and honey cream (a blend of whey and egg yolks to sub for coconut cream in pina coladas and the like). New in the lineup: a gin tiki drink served in a container shaped like a trash can.
3. Mushroom hunting
What should you do with all those tough stem ends after chopping up mushrooms for blended burgers? In a workshop on repurposing edible waste held during the University of Massachusetts at Amherst's Chefs Culinary Conference in June, chefs Frank Terranova and Neath Pal of Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., demonstrated how to oven roast the stem ends to dry them out, then pulse them in a food processor to create mushroom dust. The umami-rich dust can be added to sausage meat, breading for chicken and fish, and vegetable gratins to pump up flavor.
4. Fixing broken scallops
At Graffiti Earth in New York City, chef Jehangir Mehta rejects perfection in favor of ugly produce and imperfect seafood. Mehta started working with Sea to Table, a supplier focused on sustainability that connects the chef directly with fishermen to source broken scallops that were considered unsellable. From these rejects—which come to the restaurant in several irregular pieces—he created a sweet and savory scallop brulee that has since become a menu signature. Mehta markets his zero-waste mission throughout the restaurant, from newspapers that double as placemats to menu descriptions that play up veggie scraps.