Why The Next Big Food Trend Is Total Rubbish
Guinea fowl leg, grilled mushrooms with broad bean miso mayo at Craft London. Photograph courtesy of Craft London
Food waste is a hot topic. The UK alone is responsible for binning £13bn worth of food each year, yet people are queueing at food banks, forced to rely on handouts as the cost of living (and, more importantly, eating) continues to rise. Neither the morals nor the maths stack up.
Perhaps this is why, rather than a novel cuisine from a distant land or a niche super-grain that no one can pronounce, the latest food trend in 2017 is all about carrot tops, discarded mackerel heads and cocktails made from wilted vegetables. Whether they’re calling it zero-waste, nose-to-tail, beak-to-feet or root-to-fruit, a new wave of conscientious ventures is reimagining the industry and turning second-hand food into first-class dining experiences – and educating consumers in the process.
In one sense, this is nothing new. According to Mr Dan Barber, the pioneering chef behind the acclaimed Blue Hill in New York, most restaurant kitchens are built on resourcefulness. “Chefs are hardwired to eke out flavour wherever possible,” he says. What’s innovative about restaurants such as Mr Barber’s, though, is their inventiveness. “It’s imperative to utilise every ingredient to its fullest, to the extent that we have become leaders in the food waste conversation.” Having made a name for himself in the US through his use of seasonal produce, salvaged scraps and unfashionable cuts of meat, Mr Barber has taken his food waste crusade to other cities around the globe with provocative pop-up kitchen WastED, which aims to educate by serving high-end dishes made from leftovers. And he’s far from the only dumpster diver out there.
Face bacon at Blue Hill. Photograph by Mr Thomas Schauer. Courtesy of Blue Hill
“Last year we spent a lot of time looking through our bins and we started finding new ways to use up waste,” says Mr Stevie Parle, who heads up Craft London in Greenwich. “These included crackers made of potato skins, spent coffee used as a seasoning, carrot tops as a herb and deep-fried fish bones as a delicious crunchy seasoning.” Some of these have proved so popular they’ve now been adopted across Mr Parle’s other restaurants.
Yet we’re a fussy bunch. A recent study claims that 1.4 million bananas are discarded in the UK every day due to minor bruises – and food waste can be a hard sell. “The obsession with having things perfectly shaped can result in a lot of unnecessary waste,” says Mr Parle. “We shouldn’t kid ourselves that it’s anything other than vanity to cut wonderful, often expensive ingredients into perfectly regular shapes just so it looks the way we imagine it should on the plate.”
Rigatoni con pajata at Palatino. Photograph courtesy of Palatino
One of the challenges Mr Parle faces is normalising some of the more “out there” ingredients. When he launched the Italian-influenced Palatino earlier this year, he included a Roman dish called rigatoni con pajata on the menu, which is made from the often-discarded intestines of a milk-fed calf. “We spent almost as much time thinking about how to talk about this dish in a way that was honest and appetising as we did trying to use this unusual and delicious ingredient,” he says. “But every waiter got behind the dish and had their own way of talking about it and it’s now one of our best-sellers. A lot of it is about rebranding.”
And so it seems, with London’s entrepreneurs proving there are many ways to skin a rabbit. Popular Thai barbecue restaurant Smoking Goat introduced Offal Mondays in March, bringing an under-appreciated part of Thailand’s culinary culture to the capital and breathing new life into unpopular cuts. Australian chef Ms Skye Gyngell has just opened TABLE, a community dining project that tackles food waste, at Somerset House in collaboration with Photo London, while soon-to-open destination hotel The Curtain signed up the team behind Trash Tiki to create a drinks menu that includes ingredients saved from the other operations in the venue. The Nixta Sour uses orgeat syrup made from leftover tortillas while the Tip Off Fizz uses rum flavoured with leftover mint and coriander stems. And then there are endless grass-roots initiatives giving a second life to discarded ingredients, including the community-run The People’s Fridge in Brixton, which has teamed up with small-plates restaurant Plot in Tooting, and Mr Massimo Bottura’s Food For Soul, which is pairing up with high-end restaurants to give discarded ingredients a second life.
Tip Off Fizz at The Curtain’s Roosteria. Photograph courtesy of The Curtain
With pioneers such as Mr Barber and Mr Parle leading the charge, this could be the year that legitimises leftovers. Mr Barber claims people are increasingly open to experimenting with new ingredients, especially if there’s a compelling story behind them. His main desire, though – given the urgency of the situation – is that the conversation moves on. “I’d love for WastED to become obsolete,” he says of his headline-grabbing concept. “If we do our jobs right, in five years, or maybe 50, these overlooked ingredients will just be expected parts of our everyday eating.”