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The Daily Meal Council is an assembly of respected chefs, restaurateurs, writers, purveyors, food historians, and others who play key roles in the food world. They have agreed to share their opinions and their expertise with us from time to time, answering occasional queries, responding to surveys, advising us on matters of importance to us all.
Dan Barber grew up in New York City’s Upper East Side, and started farming and cooking as a young man with family and friends at his grandparents' Blue Hill Farm in Great Barrington, Mass. He studied English and political science at Tufts University, traveled to California for a stint working at Chez Panisse, and then attended the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center) in New York City. After a stage at the celebrated Michel Rostang in Paris, he went to work at Bouley back in New York. In 1996, he launched his own catering business, and four years later, in partnership with his brother David, he opened Blue Hill Restaurant in Greenwich Village. His cooking and regard for raw materials there caught the eye of David Rockefeller, who hired him to help revitalize his 3,500-acre farm estate in Westchester County, and to open a restaurant there. Today, Barber is executive chef and co-owner of the original Blue Hill and of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, part of the nonprofit Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture. He has won many accolades, including James Beard Awards as Best Chef: New York City (2006) and America's Outstanding Chef (2009). Barber has become an eloquent spokesman on matters of food and agricultural policy, and in 2009, he was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. He is also a member of the President’s council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.
The Daily Meal: What's your earliest food memory?
Dan Barber: My father's scrambled eggs. They were rubbery, at best -- more often dry and flakey. I ate them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
When did you first realize that you wanted to be a chef?
August of 1978 — my first omelet from my aunt.
What was your first cooking job?
After a scholarship fell through at the end of my senior year of college, I turned to bread baking. I thought that it would give me time to figure things out. I mostly figured out that I was terrible at bread baking.
Who was your most important culinary influence and why?
Michel Rostang in Paris. I spent a year in his restaurant after culinary school, and I felt like he took me under his wing. He’s a brilliant chef from a whole line of brilliant chefs.
What's the most important lesson that culinary influence taught you?
There’s a discipline in French kitchens that you won’t find in other places. And I think that prepared me, more than anything else, for the rigors — mental and physical — of cooking professionally.
What advice would you give to a young would-be chef just starting out?
I remember telling my dad, reluctantly, I want to be a chef. There was a long pause and then he said, “Son....why?” And I said the only thing that came to mind: “You know, I love food.” There was another pause and he said, “I love books, but I don't read for a living.” I think there’s some good advice in there somewhere. There is a lot that’s punishing about this job; loving food isn’t enough.
How do you think America stacks up against other countries around the world today in the quality of its restaurants — and the quality of its diners?
America is sort of a culinary anomaly, because we lack the kind of distinct cuisines you find in France or Italy or China. On the one hand, it’s made our restaurant landscape incredibly varied and interesting. On the other, the food culture can feel a little incoherent. But increasingly we’re seeing restaurants that embrace a sense of place. I think that’s making us more enlightened as both chefs and eaters.
Is it more important to source local products, or to use the best possible ingredients wherever they may come from?
I’m not a purist, but I will say I lead with local. Working within those constraints tends to produce results that are more delicious, and more interesting.
Do chefs have social responsibility beyond simply feeding people honestly in their restaurants?
The role of the chef is a big subject of debate now: Should we remain only in the kitchen? Or are we ambassadors for something much larger? It’s hard to argue either side, because when you say a chef can save the world, you sound ridiculous. And if you say we should just be in the kitchen, you’re selling us short. I will say, unequivocally, that the choices we make as chefs affect the way the world is used. I started cooking in the era of Paul Prudhomme’s blackened redfish — a recipe so popular and so ubiquitous it nearly exhausted an entire species. That one example is irrefutable evidence of the chef’s influence, a responsibility that we need to be mindful of.
What future project, real or imagined, excites you most?
My book [The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food], seven years in the making, is coming out this May from Penguin. That feels both real and imagined.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Why do some food issues catch fire while others languish, inert or mired in controversy? Food waste is one. Seemingly overnight, it has gone from being the province of humorless scolds to what every cool kid is talking about. Nose-to-tail use of animals you butchered yourself was one thing. But these days you can’t hold your head up as a professional chef or even home cook unless you can turn out a mean garbage salad.
The political world changed overnight too. In September, the Obama administration went from being largely silent to committing to a 50-percent reduction in food waste by 2030. The sweeping, if unenforceable, gesture came the same week as the United Nations General Assembly session, where world leaders talked about sustainable development, and three months before the climate change conference in Paris, where the Food and Agriculture Organization announced a multi-country initiative.
In December, Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine introduced the Food Recovery Act, a long list of ideas that, like many congressional bills, seemed to be more about idealism than realism (direct the hot-button School Lunch Program to buy “ugly produce,” establish the USDA Office of Food Recovery). But almost instantly, one of its key components—a permanent and significant tax break for businesses and farmers who donate food to food banks and soup kitchens—got passed in the omnibus spending bill and is now law. By policy standards, food waste has gone from zero to 60 in mere seconds.
Why the speed? Politics, for one. Tell people to grow organic, and pesticide and herbicide companies will accuse you of depriving the world of drought-resistant, increased-yield, nutrient-enhanced crops. Tell them to eat less sugar, and soda companies and the sugar lobby will come after you.
But tell people to stop throwing out food because they overbought or ordered in more often than they’d planned one week point out that the food hauled to landfills in plastic bags rather than composted will rot and emit methane as efficiently as a field of belching cows show schoolchildren and college kids the vats of recently cooked food and unopened cartons of milk and juice they’re throwing out every day, and they’ll want to change. Nobody leaps up to defend wasting perfectly good (or practically perfect) food. Food waste doesn’t have a constituency.
“It’s not controversial,” Pingree, a longtime organic farmer and restaurant owner who, along with Rosa DeLauro, is one of the most progressive legislators on food and agriculture, recently told me. “Everyone’s grandmother said, ‘Don’t waste food.’” Nor were the ideas in her bill unheard of many have been germinating for years. Two books, Tristram Stuart’s 2009 Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal and Jonathan Bloom’s 2010 American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It), got the current discussion around food waste rolling. A 2012 Natural Resources Defense Council report, Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food From Farm to Fork to Landfill, summarized ideas from Bloom’s book to the surprise of the NRDC staff scientist who wrote it, Dana Gunders, the report became one of the agency’s most-downloaded ever.
As with most food matters today, though, it took chefs to make food waste sexy. Dan Barber, whose book The Third Plate argued that farm-to-table must mean the whole farm—not just the choice and ripe-in-season bits, but the offal and tough, unused cuts of animals and weedy, fibrous leaves and ends of vegetables—created a pop-up restaurant last March called WastED (the “ED” for “education,” presumably). It served menus he and other star chefs created using food that would otherwise be discarded or simply never sold because no one thinks to cook with it. All of New York fought for a reservation.
Barber’s menus made a deep impression on his friend and champion Sam Kass, who for five years drove Michelle Obama’s obesity-fighting campaign. “Not till I ate at Dan’s pop-up did the issue crystallize for me,” Kass told me recently. When U.N. representatives approached Kass about a lunch Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was hosting to help focus world leaders on climate change and food, he asked Barber to design the menu. It worked. Seeing and tasting something on the plate always makes an issue register as can no documentary (most recently Expired? from the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic) or TED talk (like Stuart’s, with its 1.3 million views). When Kass saw Ban and IMF chief Christine Lagarde at the World Economic Forum in Davos months later, she told him it was Barber’s dumpster-dive salad she remembered. (I remember it too—I got to try it at a pop-up Barber participated in one night at Eataly. It had many artful ribbons of vegetables and a bright vinaigrette, both of which can hide a multitude of sins, and only a few things that looked vaguely brown.)
So what’s realistic for the government to enact in the short term? “You get a crystal ball,” Pingree replied when I asked her what in her bill was likely to see the light of law. “Here’s the issue about realism. Sometimes success is luck and timing.” The next law she thought ripe for change is expiration dates on food products. Spouses and roommates constantly argue, and “they’re confused for all the right reasons,” she said. Every manufacturer makes up a different set of rules, so nobody knows what they mean. Her bill requires any manufacturer using a sell-by date to add the words “Manufacturer’s Suggestion Only” in the same size, font, and color as the date (infant formula is exempted), and it directs the FDA to generate a list of foods like raw shellfish that are sold ready to eat and that have a high risk of microbial contamination with time—a relatively short list of foods, in other words, that are likely to make you sick if you wait too long. In February, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal introduced a similar bill. Apart from the reduced food waste, cleaning up sell-by dates would be a public service toward promoting domestic tranquility.
Bloom says keeping food out of landfills is the single most effective step in reducing waste and helping the environment—with the benefit of forcing people to literally stick their noses in the amount of food they’re throwing away. San Francisco, Seattle, and Massachusetts have all passed legislation limiting the amount of food waste that can be dumped and mandating curbside compost collection. “To be honest, it keeps garbage from being gross,” Gunders, of the nrdc, told me, adding that pretty much any household can cut out 10 to 20 percent of its own waste by paying even scant attention to it. “It ends up being a more tidy kitchen situation.” Pingree thinks kids will be the best nags—or “fabulous ambassadors,” as she calls them—who will guilt their parents into composting, just as a previous generation guilted their parents into recycling.
No food trend would be complete, of course, without flashy apps and tech start-ups. Many apps link businesses with hunger-relief organizations that can use their surplus food, including Spoiler Alert, from two students at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Various apps alert you to markdowns of produce approaching their sell-by dates at nearby stores—something I’d happily use, as I’ve long searched out sale racks in supermarkets not just for bargains but for ripe fruit. Imperfect Produce, a Bay Area–based company, home-delivers proudly ugly organic fruit and vegetables to several cities. Even dedicated brick-and-mortar stores are opening: In Boston, the Daily Table puts “short-dated” food, items near their (remember, arbitrary) sell-by date, in its produce bins, and a glossy supermarket aimed at conscience-driven high-income buyers has just opened in, where else, Denmark.
Some apps are maybe a bit Portlandia-ready, like LeftoverSwap, which has people meeting on street corners to exchange leftovers. Some gizmos are a bit creepy, like the smart refrigerators from Innit, which are equipped with cameras that know exactly what you’ve bought, measure gas emissions to deduce which produce is about to spoil, and serve you recipes to use that food.
Will any of this really change anything? Will your smelly compost, or stingily measured-out lettuce, help anyone besides you and your conscience? “No, you’re not putting your leftovers in an envelope and sending them to Africa,” Gunders admitted. But consumers account for 40 to 50 percent of the food supply that is wasted, she says. Stuart insists the U.S. “operates in a global market,” and told me that “if we buy and waste food, we’re taking it off the global market shelf people in Mali and across Asia depend on.” (He also promotes celebratory, Barber-style banquets of salvaged food called Feeding the 5000, and has helped start a beer company that ferments bread ends that would otherwise be discarded.) Gunders said a successful reduction of demand by even 10 percent could translate to lower demand and lower prices that could “allow people at the margins to afford more food themselves.”
I plan to be ever more vigilant when tempted at produce bins, and even compost. But what I plan to keep my eye on is action based on the ideas Pingree has turned into potential law—the changes, however many more dumpster-dive salads I virtuously order, that can help fix one of the few global-scale problems that she, at least, makes seem solvable.
The Untapped Potential of Wasted Food
Sometime later this year, the chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson plan to open the first restaurant of a new fast-food chain, Loco’l, in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. One of the foundations of their menu, Choi told me when we talked in February, will be a burger that is locally sourced, sustainable, and delicious. It will cost just ninety-nine cents. Choi has long aspired to bring quality food into the urban mainstream he is best known as the godfather of the food-truck movement and as the owner of Kogi, a fleet of Korean–Mexican taco trucks. The goal of competing with fast-food giants like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Chipotle, and Shake Shack is ambitious, to say the least, but he and Patterson are convinced that it can work. “We can change fast food because we are chefs,” Choi said.
But fast food is, of course, defined less by the innovations of chefs than by vast economies of scale. Loco’l’s principals believe that their enterprise—despite being smaller than other chains, with fewer advantages in terms of supply prices and marketing costs—will be able to set low prices on its hamburgers, tamales, and sandwiches primarily by wasting less food. Restaurants—and fast-food joints, in particular—are infamous for the tremendous waste they generate. This is a result of large portion sizes, standardized menu items that use only parts of animals, and quality-control codes which mandate, for example, that McDonald’s fries must be thrown away if they’re not sold within seven minutes of being cooked. Loco’l plans to repurpose scraps that would ordinarily end up in the trash, and to design their recipes to include common ingredients across dishes. “Waste is the cornerstone of Loco’l,” Choi said. “In a way, it’s the only way we can make this crazy thing happen.”
In tapping into waste, Choi and Patterson hope to marry fiscal prudence with environmental idealism. According to a report published in 2012 by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the amount of wasted food in the U.S. has increased by fifty per cent since the nineteen-seventies, to the point where more than forty per cent of all food grown or raised in the United States now goes to waste somewhere along the supply chain. This in turn means that vast amounts of fossil fuels, water, and other resources are being wasted in the production of unused food.
The economic and environmental advantages of waste reduction have made it a burgeoning concern in the food-service industry. In 2015, waste management was ranked ninth on the National Restaurant Association’s annual survey of culinary trends. Andrew Shakman, a founder of Lean Path, an Oregon-based company that develops software intended to reduce food waste, pointed out that waste elimination is particularly useful for restaurants concerned with sustainability. While other sustainable practices—sourcing food locally, using organic vegetables and meats—often increase costs, he said, attention to waste can lead to savings.
Lean Path’s software, which is modelled on productivity programs used elsewhere in the corporate world, helps servers, chefs, and other restaurant staff measure what they throw away, allowing businesses to cut costs by identifying which foods are being over-ordered or over-served. Restaurants might, for example, be putting too many rolls in a basket, or stocking strawberries for a dish that few customers request. Lean Path boasts that it can help restaurants cut their costs by between two and six per cent, and the National Resource Defense Council calculated that, after the dining services team at the University of California, Berkeley, began using the software, in 2011, the school’s pre-consumer waste dropped by forty-three per cent, which translated to savings of about sixteen hundred dollars a week.
To see Lean Path in action, I visited one of the company’s biggest clients: Google, which uses the software in seven of the cafés scattered across its campus in Mountain View, California. After the lunch rush at KitchenSync, one of Google’s newest and most popular cafés, Benjamin Pomele, a line cook, showed me how he had measured the day’s discarded food while prepping meals. First, he loaded two demo zucchini (slightly bruised, but not yet being discarded) into a plastic bin. Then he logged in and guided us through the software, which prompted him to indicate the type of container he was using so that its weight could be subtracted, then asked for more details about the food: Was it overproduction, trim waste, or from a staff meal? Was it being composted or donated? Within seconds of receiving Pomele’s responses, the system calculated the lost value of the zucchinis: fifty-three cents. If KitchenSync produced the same waste on a daily basis, the loss translated to a hundred and ninety-three dollars per year.
Pomele told me that, when he first started using Lean Path a few months ago, he noticed that he was discarding more than other prep cooks. He soon realized that he’d been cutting too much off the ends of carrots, onions, and other veggies. “Now we’re getting more use out of the food,” he said. Lean Path also includes a camera that takes a snapshot of the unused food, so that managers and staff “waste champions” can help identify problems and potential solutions, such as improved chopping technique. A Google representative told me that the software had resulted in savings of more than a hundred and fifty-nine thousand pounds of food since April of last year.
For the moment, Lean Path’s more than two hundred and twenty clients consist mainly of large institutions with central food-services operations, like Berkeley and Google. Typical single-location, chef-owned restaurants tend to have more variable menus and ingredients, smaller staffs, and tighter budgets. (The Lean Path software, depending on the size of the operation, costs between three hundred and forty-nine dollars and seven hundred and ninety-nine dollars a month.) To try to make its product more feasible for smaller businesses, Lean Path recently released a simpler version of its software, called LeanZap, which a handful of initial clients are using—this option costs as little as sixty-nine dollars a month.
A representative at Loco’l told me that the restaurant isn’t planning to use software to track waste. If all goes according to Choi’s ambitious plan for the chain’s menu, there might not be any need for it. Choi told me that he hopes to make use of every scrap, peel, and bit of gristle that comes through the kitchen. The menu will include multiple items that are braised, slow-cooked, and then stuffed vegetable peelings and ends will be ground up with non-choice cuts of meat and made into dipping sauces or filling for tamales. These methods will also allow Loco’l to purchase bruised or strangely formed vegetables, which are generally sold at a discount. Choi also plans to cut his burgers with rice and tofu, which will have the added benefit of making them healthier.
Like Lean Path, Loco’l is driven by a mission of cultural change. “In many ways, we’re going back to a lot of old, ancient principles, from societies in which the way you survived was by using everything around you,” Choi said. (Hannah Goldfield recently wrote for this site about a meal at the pop-up restaurant WastED, a project by the chef Dan Barber to “effectively reverse-engineer the evolution of American food.”) As a marketing strategy, this philosophy has already served Loco’l well. When the restaurant’s launch was announced, in 2014, the hype was so great that it launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise money, less because it needed the cash than to harness the enthusiasm and create a sense of community. The campaign ultimately raised nearly a hundred and thirty thousand dollars.
Still, translating this idealism into a business plan that will allow Loco’l to compete with much larger fast-food players won’t be easy. Loco’l’s public-relations team e-mailed me a month or so after Choi and I first spoke to clarify that, although Loco’l would most certainly offer ninety-nine-cent items on its menu, these wouldn’t necessarily include a ninety-nine-cent burger, as Choi had initially said. It seemed as though the research-and-development phase had provided a reality check—a possibility that Choi himself had acknowledged, both to me and on Loco’l’s Indiegogo page. There, he and Patterson had written, “We’re aiming to revolutionize the fast food industry as we know it in America. It’s going to be long, difficult and damn near impossible journey.”
Starve a Landfill
SEATTLE — The nation’s first citywide composting program based largely on shame began here in January.
City sanitation workers who find garbage cans filled with aging lettuce, leftover pizza or even the box it came in are slapping on bright red tags to inform the offending household (and, presumably, the whole neighborhood) that the city’s new composting law has been violated.
San Francisco may have been the first city to make its citizens compost food, but Seattle is the first to punish people with a fine if they don’t. In a country that loses about 31 percent of its food to waste, policies like Seattle’s are driven by environmental, social and economic pressure.
But mandated composting reflects a deeper shift in the mood of the nation’s cooks, one in which wasting food is unfashionable. Running an efficient kitchen — where bruised fruit is blended into smoothies, carrot tops are pulsed into pesto, and a juicy pork shoulder can move seamlessly from Sunday supper to Monday’s carnitas to a rich pot of broth for the freezer — is becoming as satisfying as the food itself.
The ethos stretches from Manhattan’s best restaurants to the homes of people like Kathleen Whitson, 44, who cooks for her family of four in West Seattle.
Ms. Whitson, who didn’t discover fresh garlic until she was out of college, now drops vegetable trimmings in a compost bucket on the counter and keeps a list of what’s in her chest freezer on the refrigerator door. A stockpot simmers on the stove and kombucha ferments in the pantry. She cooks more like her grandmother than her mother, a woman she said raised her to believe in the magic of processed food.
“In spite of the fact that it drives me crazy sometimes, I can’t imagine cooking any other way now,” Ms. Whitson said. “It just makes me feel better. Like, I love knowing I have raspberries from our yard in the freezer.”
To be sure, the cook’s pursuit of thrift and efficiency is not new to American food culture. Sausage, home-churned butter and fermented cabbage were as much delicious foundations of farm life as they were essential to Depression-era survival.
Homemakers during World War II considered themselves soldiers of the kitchen, with conservation their battle cry. In the 1970s, ecology drove the urge to make good use of kitchen waste.
Somewhere along the line, the art of kitchen efficiency was lost amid grocery stores packed with pre-made pizza shells, bagged lettuce and fruit so perfect it needed no knife work. Dinner was almost as likely to come from the drive-through or the new corner bistro as from the stove.
How were home cooks supposed to know what to do with a leftover chicken carcass if they didn’t know how to roast the chicken in the first place?
Now, in this era of nose-to-tail eating, by-catch seafood suppers and farmers’ markets, the discarded is becoming delicious.
“We are starting to really celebrate the curve of the vegetable,” said the Atlanta chef Steven Satterfield, “and not peeling things and showing off a little of the tap root or the green on the top of the radish to remind you of where the vegetable came from.” His new book, “Root to Leaf,” is a deep study of vegetable cookery, with instructions for making stocks from corn cobs and mushroom stems.
Five Weeknight Dishes
Emily Weinstein has menu suggestions for the week. There are thousands of ideas for what to cook waiting for you on New York Times Cooking.
- This coconut fish and tomato bake from Yewande Komolafe yields a gorgeous, silky ginger-coconut sauce.
- This tasty recipe for sheet-pan chicken and potatoes by Lidey Heuck is really nice without being fussy.
- This vegetarian baked Alfredo pasta with broccoli rabe is inspired by pasta Alfredo, but with green vegetables added.
- Kay Chun adds asparagus and snap peas to this spring vegetable japchae in this vegan take on the classic dish.
- You could substitute chicken or another type of fish in this summery grilled salmon salad from Melissa Clark.
Wasting less in the kitchen is just smart economics, said Dana Gunders, a project scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council whose book, “Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook,” comes out in May.
Eating better may cost more, she said, but an efficient cook can make up the difference. “We are so price sensitive in the store, and 10 cents will swing us one way or other,” she said. “But in the kitchen we throw out so much money without even thinking about price.”
Reducing food waste is moving so quickly into the cultural mainstream that it ranked ninth among the top 20 food trends on the National Restaurant Association’s annual “What’s Hot in 2015” list, based on a survey of almost 1,300 chefs.
Imperfect fruits and vegetables are being promoted by grocery stores and organizations like endfoodwaste.org, whose social media campaign includes a stream of misshapen produce photographs on its Twitter feed, @UglyFruitAndVeg.
In October, the organization helped create what was billed as the Woodstock of food waste in Oakland, Calif. — a meal for 5,000 people from food that would have otherwise been thrown out before it made its way to the grocery store.
Later this spring, a former Trader Joe’s executive will open Daily Table, a restaurant and grocery store in Roxbury, Mass., that is dedicated to ugly fruit and food past its sell-by date. Even in Europe, where classic dishes like pot-au-feu or the Tuscan soup ribollita sprang from a history of kitchen efficiency, 2014 was declared the year against food waste, a move that came six years after the European Union lifted its ban on selling produce that was knobby, excessively curved or otherwise misshapen. Last year, the French grocery chain Intermarché took things one step further and started a campaign to celebrate and sell what it called “inglorious fruits and vegetables” with special pricing and ads.
Dan Barber, the chef and author, is so dedicated to ending food waste that he is turning his Greenwich Village restaurant, Blue Hill, into a pop-up in which every dish is based on waste. It’s an extreme extension of what many chefs already do.
“The best restaurants today are focusing on how to utilize what’s unknown and largely uncoveted,” Mr. Barber said. “That has turned dining on its head so fast we tend to not even recognize it.”
For his project, which begins on March 13, Mr. Barber and his cooks are putting kale ribs into a pressure cooker and turning them into vegetable rice and deep-frying skate bones with fish-head sauce for dipping. He has created a burger from the vegetable pulp left over from a fresh juice company. He tops it with cheese trimmings from Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont and serves it with pickles made from cucumber butts and ketchup rendered from beets rejected by plant breeders at the University of Wisconsin.
Even the food left on diners’ plates at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, his restaurant in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., feeds the restaurant’s laying hens.
A list of the country’s best chefs have volunteered to do cameos at Mr. Barber’s pop-up this month. One of them is Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park and the NoMad in Manhattan.
Considering how to use all the food that comes into Mr. Humm’s restaurants is a constant concern but offers opportunities for innovation. For a while, he was preparing a broccoli dish that produced copious amounts of stems. They became a gratin for the staff meal. “Then I started liking the stems better,” he said. “If you cook it right, it’s as great as an asparagus. We ended up just using the stems for the dish and serving the florets to staff.”
Mr. Barber admits that waste is perhaps not the best selling point on a menu, but he hopes that if he can inspire his fellow high-end chefs to turn it into something delicious, using waste will trickle down to the menus at restaurants like Ruby Tuesday, and into home kitchens, too.
Some cooks are already there, particularly a generation of millennial cooks enamored with D.I.Y. projects, kitchen hacks and social causes like hunger and agricultural reform, said Brandi Henderson, an architect who became a pastry chef and blogger. She teaches about 40 cooking classes a month at the Pantry in Seattle, a city whose environmental sensibility made the composting mandate less controversial than it might be in a city like New York. Many of her students are younger and interested in everything from how to coax the best out of a handful of beans to making jams and salami. They care as much about where the ingredients come from as what’s going into the garbage.
Like other cooking teachers and authors, she has shifted her emphasis to a kind of freestyle, technique-based instruction that is untethered from recipes.
“So much home kitchen waste is from people shopping from a recipe,” she said. “Someone will use that weird curry paste once and then won’t have the confidence to think: ‘Hey, this curry paste is really good. I’m going to make some fried rice with it or sauté some shrimp.’ ”
So, she teaches the mechanics of a pan sauce, the science behind braising and a pie class in which pie is presented as a formula with endless variation. She recommends “The Flavor Bible,” a book by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg that features no recipes but encourages intuitive cooking using lists of ingredients and complementary flavors and techniques.
“If we leave the recipe behind and get back to technique cooking,” she said, “kitchen waste will go away.”
Chef Dan Barber & Alexa Join NRDC’s “Save The Food” Campaign
I bet we’ve all had the experience of standing over the trash can, staring at what was once a tasty-looking snack, entrée or piece of fruit before we forgot about it and let it get scary in the back of our fridge. We’ve kicked ourselves over money spent on food we end up tossing out and pledged to do better the following week.
Just over 40 percent of all the food that goes to waste in the United States gets wasted in our homes. It’s nothing more and nothing less than you and me throwing food into the trash, down the disposer, or onto the compost pile. And when food goes to waste, so does everything it took to get it to our plates—water, land, energy, labor and money. The good news is that this means that we, as individuals and families, can make a big dent in the problem just by taking small steps in our daily lives to keep more food out of the trash.
NRDC, in partnership with Ad Council, is here to help. Last year, we launched the “Save The Food” national public service campaign. Save The Food aims to help consumers recognize the problem and inspire them to take action. If you haven’t already seen our videos, caught the action on social media, or seen Save The Food signs on billboards or busses, be on the lookout! Cities, businesses, universities and others across the country—from San Diego to Minneapolis to Nashville—are diving in.
Together, we’re having an impact. New survey data from Ad Council shows that since our campaign launched, awareness is growing nationwide, specifically among moms and millennials – our target audiences. Now, more than half the population strongly agrees that food waste is a big problem, and nearly 90 percent of people who have seen the PSA videos have taken steps to reduce their food waste. Yes! And what will be the topic of discussion at your next dinner party? Two-thirds of people who are aware of the campaign report talking about food waste with their friends and family—more than twice those who aren’t familiar with it.
Chef Dan Barber in new video PSA for Save The Food campaign
Today, we’re seeking to build on that progress by launching phase two of the campaign. The second phase comes with more tools to raise consumer awareness about the problem and empower people to take action in their own lives.
For starters, we’re excited to partner with renowned Blue Hill and Blue Hill Stone Barns chef Dan Barber. Dan stars in a new Save The Food video where he surprises a couple at home to show them how to transform those often-forgotten food scraps into a delicious meal. The hope is that he will inspire home chefs to challenge themselves to get creative and do the same.
In addition to the video, we’re launching a new Save The Food Skill for Alexa—Amazon’s voice-controlled virtual personal assistant that provides users the ability to dictate commands, search the web and more. Now, saving the food is as easy as asking Alexa where to store the strawberries you just brought home, or how to tell if that yogurt is still safe to eat. Need a recipe to use up those browning bananas? Alexa can help with that too. You can watch the demo here.
NRDC has also updated our landmark Wasted report, which helped spark a national conversation about food waste when it was released five years ago. In the five years since, there’s been so much progress ranging from panning the corporate sector to cities, states, consumers, and even international action to reduce the amount of food we waste. Our second edition of Wasted explores how far we’ve come and where we need to go next. It includes updated statistics on the environmental, social and economic impact of food waste in the U.S., and recommendations for the pathway forward.
Personally, I love the Idea that I can minimize my environmental impact when I make sure that good food doesn’t go to waste—and I’m saving money at the same time. Save The Food is showing that being environmentally conscious and budget conscious go hand-in-hand and can be surprisingly fun! Find out for yourself—visit SaveTheFood.com for new food-saving tips, tricks, and recipes, and check out our new report to learn more about the “bigger picture” of wasted food from farm to fork.
If we all start making small changes in our daily lives, together we can make a big difference. Everyone who eats can be a part of the solution.
She recognized the influence she could wield with her food budget
“Our food dollars matter — they’re powerful,” she said. “We have major consumer power when it comes to what sort of food we tell the industry we require, what we’re interested in, and what we will pay for.”
She and her family started gardening after her experiment, and later they bought a community-supported agriculture (CSA) share at a local farm. They also now shop at their local farmer’s market, and at the grocery store they buy more organic products. “It costs more, and it takes more time, but I know what we’re eating, and I feel good about it,” she said.
The dollars she spends on the CSA share, the farmers’ market and the grocery store mostly stay in her community, supporting local business owners and their families.
Finally – a clearly written, thoroughly researched and entirely enjoyable discourse on the fine art of baking seasonally and naturally. It doesn’t seem to be an entirely difficult subject yet countless others have tried to pull together baking with seasonal ingredients, a variety of flours and natural sweeteners to much less satisfying results than the wonderful new Green Market Baking Book by Laura Martin (Sterling Publishing, 2011).
Martin combines a clear vision for this book with a vibrant wr Finally – a clearly written, thoroughly researched and entirely enjoyable discourse on the fine art of baking seasonally and naturally. It doesn’t seem to be an entirely difficult subject yet countless others have tried to pull together baking with seasonal ingredients, a variety of flours and natural sweeteners to much less satisfying results than the wonderful new Green Market Baking Book by Laura Martin (Sterling Publishing, 2011).
Martin combines a clear vision for this book with a vibrant writing voice, excellent resource material and wonderful recipes that bring out the best of sweet and savory ingredients of each season. The recipes – some from Martin but most from a who’s who list of chefs and quality bakers like Susan Spicer, Dan Barber, Tom Douglas, Rozanne Gold and others are able to inspire solid results and seasonal experimentation.
There is little worse in the world of baking than recipes that don’t work. A collapsed quick-bread, wafer thin cookies or crumbling, flavorless biscuits is often enough to make the home baker give up on a book – or to utter ‘I can’t bake’. Martin has selected and tested the recipes found here in detail and makes solid, workable suggestions for substitutions and improvements that anyone who might struggle with baking can achieve.
Baking is at once a science and an art – the glorious intersection of chemistry, action, ingredients and heat that can be entirely frustrating in process and totally transcendental in result. Understanding and successfully executing the often delicate interplay of leaveners, flours, sweeteners and seasonal produce in baking can be hard-wrought and not without failure. The Green Market Baking Book presents an understandable and workable platform where successful results and confidence can be gained and enjoyed.
Martin approaches the recipes in the Green Market Baking Book not looking to just substitute natural sweeteners and other ingredients for more ‘traditional’ granulated sugar and all-purpose flour. These recipes are formulated from the beginning using the variety of natural sweeteners like honey, agave nectar and sorghum available today with the freshly ground grain flours now also often found in farmers’ markets next to the seasonal produce that remains the focus of the book. So many other baking books suggesting natural sweeteners and grain flours provide only substitutions in chart often well hidden in the text and frequently inaccurate. Martin also clearly identifies recipes that will appeal to those looking for ‘easy’, ‘wheat-free’, ‘low-calorie’ and other categories. If a negative was to be put forth, it would be to mention that there is not an index of all the recipes that fall under each category (though recipes by ‘theme’ is included) as are menus for seasonal enjoyment and thoughtful seasonal section introductions that inspire the recipes to follow.
As Martin puts it “This book was born from a desire to give people alternatives to baking with refined sugar and artificial sugar products and to encourage them to support their local food economies”. This book, the Green Market Baking Book is so much more, in so many ways and it deserves a prominent space near the mixing bowls, measuring spoons and pans of all ‘locavore’ bakers. . more
Eatery Makes Delicious Meals From Food That Stores Refuse To Sell
If eating food waste doesn’t sound too appetizing, this might change your mind.
A restaurant called Restlos Glücklich (which translates to “Completely Happy”) makes its dishes almost entirely out of items rejected by other food vendors. The not-for-profit eatery, which opened in Berlin, Germany, in May, also hosts workshops to teach people how to waste less food at home.
Around 70 to 80 percent of the ingredients used in the restaurant’s meals are donations from wholesalers and supermarkets that don’t want the items on their shelves. Some of this food is produce that looks “ugly” ― it’s edible and nutritious, but it’s not picture-perfect.
“These are products [grocery stores] can’t sell because customers wouldn’t buy them,” Completely Happy team member Wiebke Hampel told The Huffington Post. “They don’t look fresh enough, or have spots, or the dairy products are close to their expiration date.”
While Completely Happy’s dishes are mainly vegetarian, the daily menus are not predictable: The chefs regularly change them up based on produce they get from their partners. But visitors can always count on finding something unique, like foamy beet soup with ginger crème fraîche cheese, for example.
Here’s a dish of fried tofu-balls on grilled vegetables with spinach risotto and asparagus-mint salad that Completely Happy whipped up:
And here’s another Completely Happy creation, a creamy pumpkin soup with pumpkin seed oil, served with thyme bread:
Food waste is a major problem worldwide. In the United States, where the problem is arguably the most entrenched, up to 40 percent of food goes uneaten , according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Some tossed food is composted or turned into animal feed, but most winds up in landfills.
Part of this global problem, as Hampel mentioned, is that major grocery stores adhere to strict cosmetic standards for produce. In the real world, however, not every piece of fruit or fresh vegetable is unblemished and perfectly shaped.
The companies that donate food to Completely Happy tend to be more environmentally conscious than many supermarkets, meaning they’re less likely to trash “ugly” food items, according to Hampel.
Another significant contributor to food waste comes from inside the home. American families, for instance, throw out about 25 percent of the food and beverages they buy. Germany faces a similar problem: People who live there toss more than 24 million pounds of food per year.
This happens for a variety of reasons. Sometimes people simply purchase too much and don’t consume it all other times they get confused by expiration dates and throw out food before it’s actually gone bad.
Completely Happy wants to teach people how to curb such wasteful habits. Take the group’s Creative Cooking Class, for one: This workshop shows folks how to make use of all the items in their fridge.
“People throw away food at home, because they don’t know how to cook with all of it,” Hampel told HuffPost. “And there’s the problem of expiration dates ― so confusing. We want to teach people to start believing in their own senses again: If you see a carrot and it’s fine, eat it, and if it’s a little old, just make soup out of it.”
Food waste experts generally agree that as long as people avoid food that’s obviously gone bad ― such as chunky milk ― eating food that’s close to expiring, or has recently passed it’s sell- or use-by date, probably won’t hurt you.
Completely Happy is open for dinners Wednesday through Saturday, making the space available for workshops the rest of the week, according to Hampel. While it’s run by a handful of part-time staff, the restaurant is mostly powered by the dozens of volunteers who sign up online for shifts.
“What was cool for me was that, with a restaurant, we could raise awareness and start talking about this issue in a positive environment,” Hampel said. “It’s not about saying, ‘You’re so bad for throwing away food.’ It’s more like this food is still yummy and good and we can make creative meals out of it.”
Completely Happy is just one of a growing movement of restaurants worldwide that have committed to fighting food waste.
Blue Hill chef Dan Barber, for instance, ran a pop-up restaurant in New York last year, serving only food waste for a month. The Saucy by Nature restaurant in Brooklyn makes meals out of leftovers from its catering business. In the United Kingdom, the Real Junk Food Project has cafes across the country that sell food rescued from other restaurants or vendors.
Hidden haunts: A restaurant critic explores 3 recently opened Orange County ghost kitchens
Scroll through DoorDash, Grubhub and Postmates, and you’ve surely seen a ghost — a ghost kitchen, that is. Designed for online ordering and delivery, ghost kitchens operate from rented spots at shared commercial spaces such as Smart Kitchens in Irvine and the Hood Kitchen Space in Costa Mesa.
On the apps, you can sometimes tell the ghosts from the rest — they’re usually that new concept you’ve never heard of. Often the people behind them are aspiring restaurateurs who use the lower investment costs of these spaces to test their ideas and themselves. But since the pandemic hit, you’re more likely to see the other type of ghost kitchens, which aren’t really “ghosts” at all.
These are brick-and-mortar restaurant chains who list themselves under a different name in the hopes of “catfishing” you into ordering rearrangements of their existing menu items. To them it’s an easy way to rebrand and multiply their presence on the delivery sites. But for me, the ruse is, at the very least, disingenuous.
So I decided to hunt down some real “ghosts.” And to make sure they weren’t just figments of a corporate brand manager’s imagination, I would cut out the delivery middleman and pick up the orders myself.
What follows are accounts of my experiences at three of Orange County’s newest ghost kitchens and the stories behind them. They include the first foray into entrepreneurship for an amateur Cajun seafood cook, a seasoned Korean food executive looking to start his own brand, and an established Central American fried chicken chain that has discovered an opportunity to penetrate more markets.
1560 S. Lewis St., Anaheim, CA, 92805
With over 400 worldwide locations, Pollo Campero is, without question, the most dominant fast-food brand to come out of Guatemala. You might have read the recent Los Angeles Times article about how the aroma of Pollo Campero’s fried chickens now fills the cabins of resumed U.S.-bound flights from Central America as travelers bring back a taste of home. It speaks to the brand’s popularity that this happens even though there are already at least 10 Pollo Campero brick-and-mortar locations in the L.A. area. Orange County, in the meantime, had none.
This changed last month with the opening of Pollo Campero’s ghost kitchen in Anaheim. It operates out of a 200-square foot space rented from CloudKitchens by Uber’s Travis Kalanick. Officially called a “digital kitchen,” this is the first of 10 “ghosts” Pollo Campero plans to open throughout the country this year.
They are making the investment after seeing their online orders and delivery increase by more than 300% last year. The company is betting this trend continues, even as the pandemic subsides.
Campero USA’s Managing Director & COO Luis Javier Rodas puts it this way: “The digital kitchen model, with a smaller footprint and efficient cost structure, has enormous potential to help us further penetrate markets and bring our chicken to more consumers in a convenient way.”
If you do decide to pick up your online order at Pollo Campero’s Anaheim ghost kitchen like I did, trust where your GPS takes you. Forge ahead even as you end up inside a block of industrial warehouses. Then, look for the dancing plastic tube man in front of the warehouse that says “Food Pick-up & Takeout” in large block letters.
Enter through the door beneath those words and walk toward the opening at the end of an empty hallway. Because a handful of other concepts operate here, tell the waiting attendant your name and that you have an order from Pollo Campero.
Finally, rush home to eat the chicken, which comes either grilled or fried in an addictive thin coating of batter spiced with a flavor that is unique to this chicken. Enjoy sides such as spears of fried yucca that eat like gigantic fries, a corn salad bursting with the color of confetti and a creamy bowl of beans that begs to be consumed next to a campfire.
Then, when you bask in the afterglow of the meal you just ate, be thankful that you didn’t have to drive to any of Pollo Campero’s L.A. branches, let alone LAX to pick up someone who has brought it back from Central America.
17951 Sky Park Circle Unit F, Irvine, CA 92614
One of the owners behind the month-old the Goban is a gentleman named Joe. Though Joe declined to give his last name for this story, he did share that, for the last decade, he worked for a Korean restaurant chain that had branches in the U.S.
As the effects of the lockdowns rippled through the industry, the company — which Joe also declined to name — closed nearly all of its American stores. It was then that Joe left to create his own brand.
To test out his experience and the market without taking on too much risk, he decided to start with two ghost kitchens. Operating as the Goban, one cooks out of CloudKitchens’ Long Beach branch and the other, Smart Kitchens in Irvine.
Being a tenant at these two different ghost kitchen spaces has allowed him to see their differences. But the common thread is the attractive low start-up costs and short-term leases that last between six months to a year. Rent, which includes utilities and cleaning fees, and the willingness of his landlords to help out with marketing and permits required by the city, have also made things easier for first timers.
TimesOC reveals where to get the best bento boxes — and what to look for inside them — in Orange County.
So far, the arrangement has been working well for Joe. And with no dishwashers, no bartenders, no manager, no front-of-the-house staff and no cashier, it leaves his skeleton crew of three to dedicate themselves solely to the preparation of the food.
He notes that this laser-focus on cooking and packaging seems to have resonated. In the few short weeks since the Goban opened, Joe has already seen repeat customers for his Korean bentos. The meals are sealed inside attractive paper boxes that look like gifts waiting to be unwrapped. And in the Goban’s Supreme Combo Box, there’s a farm animal sampler with strips of grilled beef called bulgogi, breaded planks of deep-fried pork called katsu, and easy-to-eat white-meat morsels of Korean fried chicken shellacked in a sweet and spicy glaze.
And because Smart Kitchens is centrally located within one of the densest business districts in Irvine, Joe has noticed that office park workers are using Smart Kitchens not for delivery but as a convenient takeout spot with online ordering. They approach it as though it’s a veritable food hall or mall food court, sans the hall or the mall.
BUCK’S CRAB TRAP KITCHEN
350 Clinton St. Suite A, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Before you order from Buck’s Crab Trap Kitchen, stick a few beers in the ice chest. Though you can only do delivery or pick-up, this is the kind of food you’d typically eat in a nautically themed Cajun seafood restaurant with a lobster bib around your neck, a small wooden mallet in one fist and a sweaty bottle of cold lager in the other.
Barely a month old, the concept is already winning repeat customers on the delivery apps. But the story behind this newest tenant of the Hood Kitchen Space started a year ago when, like everything else in the world, owner Roosevelt Buck III’s life changed. He lost his job coaching football at Citrus College early in the pandemic because, well, you can’t coach football over Zoom.
With options drying up, Buck decided to move his wife and young son back to his hometown of St. Louis after he secured another coaching job at a high school there. But soon COVID-19 restrictions ended that gig too. It was then that he resolved to follow the entrepreneurial footsteps of his father and grandfather, who both own barber shops: He was going to start his own business.
He opened the first iteration of Buck’s “ghost kitchen” with money from his own pocket. Though he had zero restaurant experience, Buck had been cooking seafood for family events for a decade. And in St. Louis, where COVID-19 curfews had forced traditional restaurants to close early, he saw an unmet demand. He would cook starting from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. And with the help of his brother, they delivered the food themselves all night long to customers all over the city.
Seeing that her husband’s spin on Cajun seafood was a hit, Buck’s wife convinced him that they can make Buck’s Crab Trap Kitchen work in California. So, they moved back to the Golden State and secured a spot they currently rent at the Hood in Costa Mesa. Though he isn’t doing door-to-door delivery himself anymore, if you do pick up, it will be Buck who hands you the food. He and his wife are the only employees.
In the future he wants to hire help, expand to a food truck and hopefully open the brick-and-mortar restaurant that you picture in your mind when you hear the name Buck’s Crab Trap Kitchen. But for now, Buck considers it a blessing that he has this opportunity at the Hood. He enjoys the family environment there and notes that he and his fellow tenants have become each other’s customers after sampling each other’s food.
And through online ordering and on-site pick-up, you can sample it too. Though it’s unnecessary to do so, you can dip his deep-fried lobster bites — Cajun-spiced morsels of battered decadence — into the garlic-packed melted butter sauce they come with. Or you can taste some of his unshelled deep fried king crab legs, which are unlike anything offered by the Boiling or Kickin’ Crabs.
St. Charles mayor drops the hammer on Main Street with restrictions
ST. CHARLES, Mo. – There will be no more dancing or loud music allowed on historic Main Street in St. Charles. Mayor Dan Borgmeyer made the announcement Monday, admitting it may sound like something from the movie “Footloose” but saying something’s got to be done about a recent spike in gunfire in the area.
“Part of what we’ve seen is an uptick in the use of weapons,” said St. Charles Police Captain, Ray Jenks.
“The enforcement hammer went down today,” the mayor said.
Main Street is known for its shops, big holiday events, restaurants, bars, and yes, night life, but in recent months it’s become known for massive street crowds and gunfire. Police have repeatedly responded to calls for “shots fired.” There’s even been a murder.
Total legal capacity for businesses in the historic district on North Main is around 3,000 but the number’s been hitting 5,000 to 6,000 on busy nights, according to the mayor, with night clubs drawing most of the people. The historic district is not zoned for dancing, loud music, or live entertainment, city officials said.
“They’re not zoned for night club activity,” Borgmeyer said. “This is not my first rodeo. I didn’t get the name ‘Mayor Footloose’ by accident. We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to control it. We’ve identified the types of behavior that are causing the problems we’re having. Until that’s mitigated or we can find some other venue for people to do it we’re going to continue to be more restrictive rather than less.”
“We’ve had several incidents over the last couple of months. At this point, with the way we want to treat St. Charles and keep it safe, even is one too many,” Capt. Jenks said.
About 18-19 businesses are impacted. They all got letters from the city Monday notifying them of the changes, the mayor said.
The changes also include strict enforcement of the city code requiring that food sales account for at least 50% of businesses that serve alcohol, a requirement that had been eased during the COVID-19 pandemic, the mayor said.
St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann, along with county council representatives Terry Hollander, Nancy Schneider, and John White (for districts 5, 6, and 7, respectively) sent a letter to the St. Charles City Council, which said the four of them, “are very concerned at the direction certain parts of the Historic District have been headed in the last year.”
The letter explained the 50/50 rule in St. Charles, which means that at least 50 percent of an establishment’s total earnings must come from food and the other may come from alcohol. After the pandemic hit, the city suspended the rule.
“You just wonder again how much of the problem wouldn’t be here except for the fact that again Illinois, St. Louis City, St. Louis County, everybody closes at 11 o’clock,” Ehlmann said.
Ehlmann said the city expressed interest in lowering the rule to 70/30, which means only 30 percent of sales must come from food.
“Any semblance of a restaurant disappeared, and they became night club with a new clientele interested only in dancing and drinking,” the letter stated.
Ehlmann said with the recent uptick in crime, that number concerned him and the council members listed. The letter said implementing the lower food sale requirement would, “only add to the deterioration we have seen on Main Street. We want you to know that, should you decide to go in that direction, we will be considering the option of introducing at our County Council meeting on January 25, 2021, a proposed charter amendment addressing the problems developing on Main Street.”
“It’s ironic because normally we would be tickled to death to see people from all over the region coming to spend their money in St. Charles County, but you know when they’re doing it late at night, there’s alcohol involved, a lot of times the outcome isn’t the one that we would like to see,” Ehlmann said.
Ehlmann said he is pleased with the city’s announcement on Monday and hopes this brings crime in the area to an end.
Three businesses on Historic Main Street, Tony’s on Main Street, Novellus, and Used Jewelry Buyer, hired attorney Dan Goldberg to make sure the city enforces the rule because they are concerned the recent uptick in crime could affect business.
“There’s been a lot of vandalism down here and also the fact that there’s crime down here, my clients are fearful that people just aren’t going to come to Main Street,” Goldberg said.