Turning Food Waste Into Food Want

The Unites States Department of Agriculture’s economic office has estimated between 30 and 40 percent of the entire food supply in the U.S. is wasted every year
Above, Colin Ambrose of Estia’s Little Kitchen shows off cooked shrimp shells. Below, Jason Weiner of Almond displays scallop feet, mushroom powder, and pickled vegetables. Christine Sampson

Very slowly and very quietly, a small movement is taking root in the South Fork culinary community based on a national trend to combat food waste by taking things like old bread, cuttings, peelings, and other parts of food that traditionally get tossed, and undesirables such as ugly fruits and vegetables and turning them into dishes that please.

They have watched from afar as chefs like Dan Barber, of the restaurant Blue Hill in Greenwich Village and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., took this trend to heart and developed dishes and even an entire pop-up eatery dubbed “wastED” in the spring of 2015. And some, like Colin Ambrose of Estia’s Little Kitchen in Sag Harbor and Jason Weiner of Almond in Bridgehampton, have started reimagining food waste in their own kitchens.

“The problem is you have to want to do it. . . . Is there a move toward doing it? A little,” Mr. Weiner said. “I think it helps when you have the tight relationship between farms and chefs, but I wish there was a little more of a nudge from the public out here to get things in place. It’s more on a case by case or micro-level.”

It is safe to say food waste is an enormous problem.

The Unites States Department of Agriculture’s economic office has estimated between 30 and 40 percent of the entire food supply in the U.S. is wasted every year. From suppliers to consumers, that translated to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food in 2010, according to the U.S.D.A. In March, National Geographic reported the worldwide weight of food waste is as much as 2.9 trillion pounds a year, which, if recovered or reused somehow, would go a long way toward feeding what the United Nations’ World Food Program says are the 795 million people going hungry around the world.

“It’s a question of the production, distribution, and imperfections in the cycle that we don’t really have down,” said Geoffrey Drummond, executive director of the Food Lab at Stony Brook Southampton and a producer of culinary television programs. “What I have tried to push for is to get people to be more conscious — I use the words mindful and careful — in the way we cook, shop, and eat, and to think about these things rather than doing it blindly. Look around the world at people who just don’t have anything. There’s such an imbalance.”

At Almond, Mr. Weiner has agreements with multiple East End farms to scoop up produce that is past its prime or that is surplus and in danger of being discarded. “The biggest part of our program is incorporating ancient preservation techniques that kind of date to before refrigeration, taking the harvest and extending it beyond the time when you’re going to eat it in front of you, and saving it for later,” he said.

That means a lot of pickling, drying, and preserving. Three weeks ago, Amber Waves sent over surplus tomatillos and Quail Hill chipped in extra jalapenos — enough to make five gallons of salsa verde, which the restaurant then shared with the farms.

“The pepper season went a lot later than usual because of the weather,” Mr. Weiner said. “Otherwise, they would have been composted. Now they will sit comfortably on our shelves for a while.”

Almond did the same with a surplus of Napa cabbage from Quail Hill Farm, yielding 150 pounds of kimchi. And when a farm on the North Fork sent over a pig it no longer had a home for, Mr. Weiner slaughtered it and used every part of it in his restaurants, even the legs, from which he made prosciutto crudo.

Another dish at Almond using an often discarded ingredient is smoked scallop feet.

“When you get scallops in, there’s a little tough thing on the side. In the kitchen we call it the scallop foot,” Mr. Weiner said. “We use them kind of like how you would use bonito flakes and kombu flakes, essential to a Japanese dashi” — a clear soup or a broth. “We find these scallop feet lightly smoked and dried made for a great addition and add body and definition to the Japanese dashi we make. They get really hard and you grate it almost like you grate cheese.”

At Estia’s, Mr. Ambrose takes wet grinds straight out of the coffee maker and blends them with butter and powdered chili pepper to make a rub for ribeye steaks. “I compost almost all my coffee grinds, but I’m also trying to find ways to use that in my cooking, and it seems to go really well with the chili and beef,” he said.

That is just one example. Mr. Ambrose has also found a use for shrimp shells and the husks of lobsters, usually cull lobsters purchased for their meat at a less expensive rate because of their physical deformities. When their meats have been extracted, he roasts the shells and then boils them to create a fumet, or light fish stock, which is then used for making a dish such as seafood paella or shrimp risotto. The flavors are recycled and the rest is composted.

“It brings it to another level,” Mr. Ambrose said.

Food waste is not just on the minds of some local chefs. The Amagansett Food Institute started a project called Gleaning the Harvest, in which volunteers scour farmers’ fields after the big harvest to collect the overripe or surplus food. They then send it to food pantries or process it into “added-value products” such as sauces, salsas, or jellies, which are in turn shared with food pantries.

“In the end, if we’re going to do something about food waste, it has to take place on the farm, it has to take place in distribution, it has to take place in the home,” said Kathleen Masters, executive director of the food institute. “Chefs have to help with awareness. They are not going to solve the problem, but they are going to bring it to our attention so the rest of us can continue to work on it.”

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Jason Weiner of Almond Restaurant incorporates food such as pickled green beans and peppers as well as sauces such as salsa and sriracha made from produce that would otherwise probably have been thrown away. He also uses mushroom powder and the often-overlooked tough bits of scallops, called scallop feet, to add flavor to various dishes. Christine Sampson
Colin Ambrose of Estia's Little Kitchen takes the shells of raw shrimp, like the ones pictured at left, and roasts them in the oven until they are pink, shown at right, to use as a base for a light fish stock. Christine Sampson