One of the most exciting things about the growing food waste movement is that it’s bringing everyone together. From Michelin-starred chefs to distillers, festivals and food writers, food waste is being approached in a whole new light. We talk to Gourmet Traveller’s chief restaurant critic Pat Nourse about some of the most interesting ways he’s seen food waste transformed, and what he does himself because he gives a toss.
When he’s thrown out and about
As a restaurant critic, we can’t help but start with some of the crazy amazing things that he’s seen chefs do to give food waste a more positive flip. “I’m pretty excited about the work Dan Barber, the chef at Blue Hill, did with wastEd in New York,” Pat says. Kale stems, vegetable pulp and skate cartilage made it into fine-dining dinners, inspiring distributors to launch new markets for scraps that used to be composted. It’s not all about Michelin stars and big American names like Grant Achatz and April Bloomfield, though.
“Closer to home I think chef Matt Stone and Joost Bakker are leading the charge with their efforts, not least at Brothl, the Melbourne eatery they ran that made soups with discarded bones from other restaurants.” While Brothl was shut down, there are plenty of other chefs and organisations carrying the torch.
“The stuff Josh Lewis does at Fleet up in Brunswick Heads is pretty interesting, turning things like prawn legs and chokoes and other largely unloved bits and pieces into delicacies is pretty amazing.” In fact, it’s these overlooked ingredients that are making the food scene that much more interesting. “To quote Fergus Henderson, the great London chef, ‘it would be disingenuous to the animal not to make the most of the whole beast; there is a set of delights, textural and flavoursome, which lie beyond the fillet.'” Pat reckons you’re missing out in life if you haven’t tried the grilled fish heads at Izakaya Fujiyama or Ume, the sweetbreads at Porteño, or the chicken feet at Marigold.
Beyond the restaurant scene, festivals and artisans are thinking outside the square too. “I’ve also been talking to the organisers of Rootstock, the artisanal wine festival, about the possibility of taking the wine from the festival’s spit buckets and distilling it into a brandy.” This is no pipe dream, either – Peter Bignell, one of the festival’s speakers in 2015, said he’d be up for the challenge. His Belgrove distillery is one of the most waste-conscious around, where used fryer oil provides 95% of his power, and spent grain is used to fatten pigs.
While these inspired individuals are to be admired, Pat also has great respect for the big practical players. “I think the work that’s done by OzHarvest is really important, too.” To rescue food from businesses for 800 charities feeding vulnerable communities across the country, OzHarvest literally changed the rules in Australia to make it legal.
Talking trash at home
That all sounds very well and good, but what about Pat’s own habits in a profession that kiiinda has gluttony at its heart? “I can’t be too smug about my own food waste habits because when I’m out reviewing restaurants I’m something of a reckless over-orderer,” he says. “But on the other hand, I’m a devoted doggy-bagger.” In fact, it turns out that in Australia, you have a legal right to take home food you’ve paid for, no matter what the waiters might say – but they don’t have to supply a container.
In his own kitchen, he has a few tricks up his sleeve too when excess strikes. Aside from refreshing bread in the oven, he’s also a fan of turning leftover loaves into croutons for salad or using them to thicken soup, while cheese rinds add extra umami to his soups and braises. “And Lebanese bread comes up beautifully in the toaster,” he adds. Anyone who’s tried a fattoush would crunchily agree.
Of course, prevention is better than cure (even if the cure is delicious). When he’s out shopping, Pat subscribes to the “quality over quantity” principle: “Buying small amounts of food as you need them isn’t just green, either – it also means good things for flavour and freshness. Buy in season. Shop with an eye for things you really want to eat and cook. Making things that are hella tasty usually makes for less in the way of leftovers.” Yep, I think we can all attest to that one.
Like many others, Pat’s also a fan of turning his scraps into stock. “Herb stems – coriander and parsley in particular – are excellent.” There’s no need to be restrictive though: “It doesn’t matter if you’ve only got bits and bobs of bones and vegetable trimmings at a time, too – you can chuck them in the freezer till you’ve got enough.”
But why does he do it? “Beyond the green and financial benefits of these things, too, there’s pleasure to be had in finding inventive ways to get the most out of what you buy. Economy can be a beautiful thing, whether it’s in painting, writing, design, music or cooking.”
That’s the best reason to rubbish food waste we’ve heard yet.
So you know food waste is costing you, our farmers and the environment, but you’re sick of being spoon fed solutions that are good in theory, but don’t work when shit gets real.
Enter Youth Food Movement Australia’s SpoonLed series, where we’re inviting you to join us in giving food waste the flip. We’re gathering up the most exciting solutions that work with our social lives, from our community and leadership workshops in Sydney. Lead the change and eat by example with us!