Restaurant food waste has environmental and financial costs. According to a survey contained in a 2014 report prepared for the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, restaurants generated 33 pounds of food waste per thousand dollars of company revenue on average.
In honor of Earth Day, Restaurant Insider caught up with two chefs and a mixologist who are working to reduce waste in their kitchens and bars. Here are their strategies for becoming a low or no-waste establishment.
Crêpe Bar in Tempe, Arizona
For chef and owner Jeff Kraus, resourcefulness began in childhood. “We had to make sense with what we had, what we used, what we purchased, what we ate,” he says. “I’ve always lived that way.” Kraus carried that approach into running a food truck and later into Crêpe Bar, a fast-casual restaurant specializing in crêpes. The restaurant will celebrate its sixth year this July. Kraus says they’re currently low-waste and working to become zero waste.
Kraus sources vegetables from local farmers and makes sure they send vegetables with the tops still attached so he can use it all from root to tip. Inspired by childhood memories, he’s made radish tops and butter into one of his signature dishes. “A lot of people don’t even realize you could use tops,” he adds.
Kraus also uses carrot tops and beet greens in condiments, garnishes, or as a filler for the crêpes themselves. His aguas frescas use strawberry tops, and unused strawberries get macerated with citric acid, lemon and sugar to form the base for a jam.
Another clever waste reducer: frying extra crêpe batter in olive oil and serving the result as chips with dips. In addition to using up excess batter, the chip-and-dip format also eliminates the need for flatware. Beans cooked in leftover bean broth (rather than dairy) retain their texture and stay hydrated, too. Next up: replacing plastic straws (which are being banned in some cities) with paper ones. “It’s always been a lifestyle,” Kraus says of his low-waste mindset. “It was mostly economical in the beginning, but it has environmental benefits too.”
Boleo Restaurant & Bar in Chicago
Inspired by Trash Tiki, a mixology pop-up that shows how to divert produce from the trash bin to the bar, Boleo head bartender Jessica Lambert, created a series of cocktails called Drink Like You Give A…. Each of these drinks at the Peruvian rooftop restaurant and bar in Chicago’s Loop is made from ingredients that might otherwise go to waste, and a portion of the proceeds from the drinks goes to benefit Zero Waste Chicago.
“I don’t think food should go in the garbage; it should challenge you. If you’re always thinking about that, it opens up some creative windows without you having to put much effort into it.” -Eric Frier
Served on draft, the Sparkling Caipirinha uses a key lime cordial made in-house using lime juice that would otherwise get tossed. Fresh lime juice only lasts 24 hours, so it has to be juiced daily. “You can track business numbers and sales so you’re not over-juicing but you never really truly know how busy you’re going to be,” Lambert says. “There are those instances where we’re left with lime juice at the end of the night, so we save it and we make it into lime cordial. The more oxidized the lime juice, the tastier the cordial.”
Another drink called Breakfast at Katsura uses excess ingredients not from the bar, but from the kitchen. “I noticed we have a lot of breads and rolls that we use for banquets that sometimes they don’t use all of it and they’re about to go stale,” Lambert says. “We do compost in our kitchens and bar prep but that’s something that could have been repurposed. We take the rolls or bread, toast those in the oven, make an almond orgeat, add the toasted bread into that, and add a bit of vanilla and maple extract. You’re left this really delicious syrup that kind of tastes like French toast.” The drink also contains Suntory Toki Japanese whisky, local cider, lemon, fizz and egg white.
Lambert says kitchens and bar prep can creatively collaborate in other ways to reduce waste. “We give tomato pulp to chefs to use in sauces,” she adds.
Spoke Wine Bar in Somerville, Massachusetts
Eric Frier, chef at Spoke Wine Bar, credits his mentors with teaching him the importance of getting inventive to reduce food waste. “I don’t think food should go in the garbage; it should challenge you,” he says. “If you’re always thinking about that, it opens up some creative windows without you having to put much effort into it.”
For instance, most people throw away kale stems due to their fibrous texture and woody taste, but Frier grills and pickles the stems for a salsa verde base that’s served with a surf clam dish. “It adds a nice crunchy texture and subtle smokiness to the sauce,” he says. “We also used to use parsnip pulp that we dried, turned into flour and breaded crab croquettes. We make ravioli using charcuterie ends as well.” In addition, he takes fresh squid with the bones and guts still in it and roasts it to make another sauce.
Since sugar preserves ingredients, desserts are another vehicle for repurposing excess produce. “Last summer we went on a tear of any fruits or berries that we would get, we would make purees and freeze it or dehydrate it and grind it into powders,” Frier says.
Spoke’s kitchen produces such a small quantity of compost that it didn’t make sense to pay $150 per week to have it hauled away. Inside, they barter with a friend of the restaurant who needs compost for her small garden plot and offered to grow herbs in exchange for compost. Frier asked her to grow borage. “It’s such a finicky herb and a lot of farms that sell it, it’s really expensive,” he says. “I wanted to see if I could think about differently. It’d be cool to experiment with it.”