Recycling, composting, digesters — all rate as key diversion tactics when it comes to reducing the amount of food waste ends up in landfills. That never-ending quest now has more restaurant chefs searching for new and innovative ways to cut waste before it starts.
Chefs Collaborative even has a What Waste campaign in the market that strives to educate chefs and other interested parties on ways to cut down on their food waste through source reduction, reuse and recycling. The What Waste campaign is a partnership with the new documentary film WASTED! The Story of Food Waste and the Whole Crop Harvest research project at North Carolina State University.
Here are five tips and tricks that chefs and foodservice operators around the country use to cut food waste in the kitchen, and what that might mean in terms of the E&S and restaurant design they would need to carry out those steps.
Foodservice designers take note: we’re going to see more and more of these practices, chefs say, so consider designing and outfitting the kitchens of the future with that in mind.
Tip 1: Pickle, preserve and dehydrate
Sunday in Brooklyn is just one of many farm-to-table, seasonal restaurants in the country that these days pickles at the peak of the harvest to enjoy delicious produce year-round. Pickling everything is important, but so is dehydration. Chef Jaime Young uses a dehydrator to preserve extra herbs that aren’t “100 percent fresh” or have slightly turned or wilted for use in making rubs, dried herb infusions for ice cream and more. He even uses dehydrated spent citrus peels for seasoning his togarashi chicken. The restaurant also sells its dehydrated spices and pickled items out of its marketplace.
E&S Implication: dehydrators, low-temp ovens, large storage containers and mason jars for pickling in the back of the house; more jars and pretty containers for selling those items out of the restaurant or displaying on tables.
Design Implication: Space for dehydrators and extra burners and space for large-scale pickling; marketplace and/or retail designs for selling preserved and pickled items in jars and other packaging.
Tip 2: Repurpose scraps for soups, dumplings and more
At Santa Barbara City College in California, Executive Chef Carrie Mitchum makes stock from vegetable scraps, including carrot tops, onion peels, celery leaves and parsley stems. She uses the stock as a base for several soups, including split pea. Mitchum adds leftover smoked ham and other deli meats from the sandwich
line to give the soup a smoky flavor.
Mimi Cheng’s Dumplings, a Chinese restaurant in New York, fills dumpling skins with bok choy stems, zucchini ends and carrot ribbons bound with peanut ginger sauce. Some chefs even use the vegetable or fruit peel as a serving vessel (picture a hollowed out Japanese squash or pineapple stuffed with the squash- or pineapple-based dish)
E&S Implication: bowls or other containers for collecting scraps and larger, scooped out vegetables, melons and other fruit, tilt skillets and/or kettles for easier, higher production stock- and soup-making; combi-ovens for making dumplings, empanadas and handheld street food items stuffed with scraps.
Design Implication: extra space on the production line for the tilt skillet, kettle or combi with the idea that staff can use these pieces for a variety of food-waste-reducing foods and dishes.
Tip 3: Make fermented beverages
Daisies in Chicago obtained a HACCP-license from the city to take on bumper crops as well as unsold or unwanted produce from suppliers to use in fermented beverages and extend their shelf life. Chef Joe Frillman makes a fermented root beer for floats and drinking enjoyment by cooking down sarsaparilla with sassafras, wintergreen, apple bar, ginger, brown sugar and vanilla and then fermenting the mixture and combining it with carbonated, filtered water to create the root beer. He tops the root beer with house-made nitrogen bourbon ice cream like a float. Frillman also makes house-made sodas from leftover whey from house-made ricotta. He uses the soda in cocktails or even dessert drinks. Raspberries, frozen at their peak harvest, become an ingredient in lacto-fermented sodas. And, Frillman makes a house-made kombucha with house-made vinegar and verjus (grape juice) using “ugly” fruit from farmers, such as pureed over-ripened local peaches. He once even bought 200 gallons of apple cider at a discount from a local farm after the apples got too warm when pressed and started to ferment. That became a sipping vinegar served on draft and in cocktails.
E&S Implication: large tanks, barrels or containers for HAACP-approved fermentation of fruits and vegetables; draft and tap systems (with tanks and barrels) for serving house-made kombucha and other fermented beverages and sodas, beakers and glass jars for mixing; glassware for serving
Design Implication: space to hold the containers with fermented product and room at the bar for a draft and/or tap system
Tip 4: Buy more in bulk
To cut down on packaging waste, restaurant operators increasingly look to buy more product in bulk from their distributors, or direct from farmers when they can send the boxes or containers back to the farmer for reuse.
E&S Implication: reusable plastic containers with lids for storing bulkier or leftover product to cut down on the use of plastic wraps and films.
Design Implication: a little extra cooler storage for larger bulk delivery orders as well as some space to hold containers that might need to go back to a farmer or supplier for reuse.
Tip 5: Sell leftovers at a discount
National Geographic Cafeteria in Washington, D.C., is big on “upcycling,” meaning reusing and recovering food waste in different ways. Staff dehydrate pulp from juicers and turn it into veggie chips. The team also packages leftovers from the lunch line and sells it to staff at half price to take home for dinner. Its billed as an alternative to more expensive subscription-based meal kit services.
E&S Implication: biodegradable/compostable packaging materials for packaging the leftovers; thermometers for maintaining food safety; scooping spoons and spatulas for emptying hot wells and salad bars
Design Implication: some designated space for packaging up the leftovers after service and for storing the packaging materials; designated space in the coolers for storing cold food for later pickup.