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Restaurants get innovative in the quest to fight food waste

4 min read

Food Retail

Fighting food waste has become a key cause in the restaurant world, as environmental concerns grow more urgent and eateries come together to fight childhood hunger. Some chefs and restaurants are moving beyond donating unused food and composting to creative new solutions that curb food waste before it starts, from creating seasonal menus using only locally grown ingredients to inventing dishes using bits and pieces of produce that used to get thrown away.

Candle Cafe’s Beet Salad
(Photo: Kate Mathis)

At Candle Cafe’s New York City restaurants, taking a bigger bite out of food waste means using all the edible parts of the fruits and vegetables. “With fall upon us, beet and then the use of the beet greens come to mind. We can also always use veggie remains to help in making stocks and the excess from trimming our seitan cutlets becomes our wheat balls,” said Executive Director Mark Doskow.

The Candle Cafes on the city’s East and West sides are organic, vegetarian  eateries with seasonal fare that’s sourced locally whenever possible. The restaurants are Certified Green by the Green Restaurant Association. “In regards to food waste, there are steps we take in every part of operations to ensure that no food gets wasted,” Doskow said. “This starts with proper ordering and handling of inventory and extends to composting all the food waste that we do create.  Plus, when you make great food, there is seldom a scrap left on our customer’s plates and then we know for sure not a morsel was wasted.”

Sometimes in the process of using more of the food they buy, chefs even inadvertently create products that grow popular enough to sell outside the restaurant. Early this summer, chef Dan Barber’s Blue Hill Yogurt was making waves at the Summer Fancy Food Show, as the first commercially available savory yogurt. The product is made with milk from grass-fed cows and comes in six vegetable flavors including beet, carrot, tomato and butternut squash. Barber created it to serve at the restaurants and it was such a hit that guests wanted to buy some to take home.

In his book “The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food,” Barber explains how his first restaurant, New York City’s Blue Hill, gained a reputation for being a farm-to-table eatery early on. Barber raised a ruckus in the kitchen one day in the spring of 2000, when he realized that the weekly order included more than a week’s worth of asparagus while an equal amount sat in the refrigerator. He ordered the cooks to use the asparagus in everything, they followed his orders quite literally, and reviewer Jonathan Gold interpreted the abundance of asparagus as a sensible and tasty way to use all of what’s in season.

“Farm-to-table is now a much abused descriptor, but back then the review pithily defined who we were, before we even knew who we were,” Barber writes in the book.

Today, at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Westchester, there are no menus. Guests dine on meals created from the ingredients pulled from the ground on the farm that day. “It’s all about working with nature instead of imposing our diets on nature and expecting nature will produce what we want,” Barber said in a CBS interview last month.

That kind of seasonal approach wins fans at Candle Cafe’s eateries as well, where the fall menu was unveiled this week, with plenty of apples, pears, sweet potatoes, pumpkins and squash, Doskow said.

“Our customers are so excited when our new seasonal menus come out and we run daily specials at each restaurant that are always top sellers.  People love to explore new preparations and foods they might not have ever had before, like tempeh, seitan, or more uncommon veggies like tat soi or lobster mushrooms.  People always think we are serving lobster when they see those on the menu,” he said.

Has your kitchen gotten more creative to cut down on food waste? Tell us about it in the comments.


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