There’s a revolution happening in the home kitchen. Pickling and fermenting – among the oldest waste-averting techniques in the world – are all the rage. Domestic cooks are regarding every crumb, leaf, and tail as sacred, looking to the likes of Tom Hunt or Fergus Henderson for ways to use up the whole carrot, from root to petiole, or what to do with pig’s guts.
And yet, while admittedly suppliers have their minimum quotas, for too long have professional chefs and restaurateurs treated waste as a necessary evil. I have a friend who, having recently entered the trade, is working at a reputable Mexican restaurant. Shocked is he at how expensive produce is being chucked away by the kilo. Yet to his colleagues, this is all they’ve ever known.
Rules can be rewritten. While there are certain sacrifices at play, restaurants are in select cases cutting down their waste to the minimum, or – such as with Silo in Brighton – eliminating it entirely. But this is not something they can do on their own. From landfill-negating apps to full circle farms, there are those who’re actively facilitating waste-saving from behind the front lines.
Horticulturalist and soil technician Igor Vaintraub founded Indie Ecology in 2011 as a way for restaurants to embark on a closed loop system with their food. Igor collects food waste from restaurants around London and takes it back to his farm in Sussex, where the waste is reintroduced to the soil so that it can ultimately be used to grow more produce.
Restaurants – which have included The Ledbury, The Clove Club, as well as (founder of Silo) Doug McMaster’s latest project Cub – have their own plots of land on the farm, and so are able to grow what they choose from it. For chefs set in the old ways, it’s an ambitious concept to say the least. ‘I understand chefs and wanted to find a way to help transform the way they think and act in terms of their impact on nature and the environment,’ Igor told The Sunday Telegraph.
Winnow essentially provides its own hardware and software with which to audit a kitchen’s waste. Which, in turn, allows chefs to measure how much money they’re potentially losing out on. Since its inception in 2013, the company has helped restaurants save $16,000,000 collectively. That includes Fairmont The Palm in Dubai, which in the first four months of using the system, found it saved the equivalent of $150,000 a year.
Cash savings aside, by default the notion encourages chefs to think more creatively behind the pass – in a case study, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall talks about how his chefs repurposed parsnip peelings (which otherwise went straight in the bin) into crispy garnishes for a dessert.
Launched this side of the North Sea only a few months ago, Karma’s hoping their ‘food rescuing’ app which took off in Stockholm also takes off in London. The premise is simple – restaurants (not to mention food outlets in general) offer up surplus food and ingredients to the public (or neighbouring restaurants) at a 50% discount.
This means restaurants can make a profit from what would otherwise be a loss, while others have access to restaurant-grade ingredients at half their trade price. Though there are similar to it, it’s clearly a solid idea within the industry – Aquavit, Magpie, Sager + Wilde, and Voodoo Ray’s have all signed up with the system.
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