Chef's Blog

December 5, 2018

Waste Not

from Chef Christopher F. Donato

Foodservice operators are in a unique position to tackle the issue of food waste, which has become a tremendous problem in the world. Our industry is a major contributor to the situation, but our customers are increasingly aware of the challenges, and we can take a leadership position to educate them—in addition to establishing our own best practices.

The USDA estimates that as much as 30-40% of our food supply is wasted, at a cost of more than $218 billion. Not only is this a huge economic loss but it also represents the single largest component of municipal landfills, which are a major source of methane. Consumer-facing businesses, including foodservice locations and supermarkets, are responsible for 40% of this, second only to homes at 43%.

Many large foodservice providers, including companies like Chartwells, are moving aggressively to reduce waste in their operations. High-profile chefs like Dan Barber are calling attention to the problem with programs like WastED. While these activities may not be practical for every kind of operation, there are still plenty of things that individual chefs can be doing.

Write the menu around the problem of food waste. If you’re breaking down whole fish in-house, for example, create menu items that utilize what’s left over after you take the filets. Trim can be turned into fish burgers or tartare, and the frames can be cracked and used to make a flavor-building fumet
Audit what’s coming back to the kitchen on plates and trays. If customers aren’t finishing their meals, consider reducing portion sizes. In self-service situations, go trayless or provide smaller plates; people can always go for a second helping
Practice “root-to-shoot” produce utilization. The stems from parsley, basil and other soft herbs can be blended into sauces and chopped for salads. The peels from scrubbed potatoes can be turned into chips. The ends of tomatoes sliced for sandwiches can be saved for salsa or marinara, and the stems and cores of broccoli and cauliflower can be served tempura-style as a side dish.
• By the same token, be willing to accept blemished fruits and vegetables if you can use them; they’re cheaper, and if you’re making applesauce or juice, you don’t need Grade A
Make a virtue of utilization practices—and call patron attention to them—with menu items like Ugly Vegetable Minestrone and Rescued Vegetable Slaw, which highlights shaved and julienned root vegetables and is proudly offered for catering by the vegetable-focused Dig Inn chain
Cooperate with colleagues. Mendocino Farms Sandwich Market uses vegetable pulp from a nearby juice shop operation to create the vegan Rescued Vegetable Burger. Salt & Straw, a San Francisco ice cream shop with a near-cult following, not only creates flavors using otherwise wasted ingredients, it has also partnered with the Roxie Theatre to make Roxie Road ice cream with their leftover popcorn. There’s even a restaurant in England, called The Real Junk Food Project, that only uses surplus food from other restaurants and supermarkets
Donate surplus food to local organizations such as Meals on Wheels or the Food Donation Connection who will distribute it to people in need. Many of these organizations will pick up
• Turn food waste into dollars and call attention to the issue with customers (and the local press) by featuring recovered food in a special dinner, as chef Dan Barber does with the WastED pop-ups
Turn scraps into gold with a compost program, which can be traded with local farm suppliers. Since this is a big commitment, know that there are also food waste-to-composting services and other community-based solutions that will pick up and handle your food waste
Let customers know what you’re doing, on your website, social media, at point-of-sale or through your servers, whether it’s donating used cooking oil for biofuel or turning overripe fruit into ice cream
• Consider taking part in the USDA’s Food Waste Challenge or the EPA Food Recovery Challenge
• Download this helpful ReFED guide for background and best practices

Did You Know? Minor’s new GreenLeaf Pestos represent the ultimate in farm-to-table, no-waste sustainability.

In addition to offering scratch-made flavor and ready-to-menu convenience, the basil and cilantro for GreenLeaf are grown hydroponically by Green City Growers, a small, sustainability-minded greenhouse located just a few miles from the Minor’s facility in Cleveland, OH. The herbs are harvested when they are just six weeks old, when they’re still tender enough that the entire plant can be used, so there’s no waste. Minor’s has also committed to taking the entire crop, in a partnership agreement that allows our supplier to make money and be successful working with us. Watch the video for more information on this unique collaboration.

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