Eat Your Veggie Guts: How Table Scraps Are Making A Culinary Comeback

Why make stock when you can make ice cream?

Hotel Herman turns cucumber skins into delicious dust. Photo by Dominiq Goyet

While the term “vegan butcher” may evoke exaggerated eye-rolls, another, similar term recently made the rounds at the UK’s Oxford Food Symposium: vegetable offal.

When processing vegetables, restaurants typically create environmentally disastrous piles of waste stalks, peelings, cores and leaves headed for compost, or worse, the landfill. Reacting to the veggie carnage, Chef Dan Barber launched last year’s WastED, a three-week food waste-themed pop-up in New York City, while San Francisco’s Salvage Supperclub is an ongoing pop-up series hosted in a repurposed dumpster, where chefs serve meals made from discarded food.

While offal—used to describe the entrails, organs, or “extra” cuts in butchering—isn’t quite the perfect term, it’s clear that a new contingent of innovative chefs are looking at veggies in a whole new light, searching for original flavors, surprising textures, and thrifty ways to lighten their environmental footprint. Let’s be honest: carrot frond pesto is so 2014. These dishes are the new wave of delicious vegetable recycling.

Amass's condiment with potato bread. Photo via Amass

Condiment And Coffee Grinds Crisps

Chef Matt Orlando and his team at Amass in Copenhagen are always experimenting with unloved ingredients to unlock their undiscovered potential.

"It's exciting, because you have to start thinking in a completely different way, and once you do that, it's a good place to be," he says.

One prime example is their “condiment,” which is served with potato bread instead of butter. Made with various leafy greens or outer cabbage leaves, it’s a pot of spicy, herbaceous flavour. "Every turnip top, everything, none of that gets thrown away,” says Orlando.

“The condiment is constantly evolving because of the leafy trim we have around the kitchen."

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]It's like a vegetarian veal sweetbread.[/quote]

Then, there’s their crackers, made from leftover coffee grinds from the restaurant. Dried overnight, grounds are milled to a fine flour, mixed with oats, cooked with leftover coffee into a porridge and made into crispy flatbread. One version of the dish, which arrives at the end of a meal, is served with a charred marshmallow flavoured with ash from burnt tea leaves—also leftovers from the previous night’s meal. Consider it a modern, eco-friendly s’more.

However, diners aren’t typically told about the kitchen’s low-waste techniques. But if not, why do it at all?

“Because it's how chefs are going to have to cook in the future," he says. "It's the heyday right now, when we can get whatever we want whenever we want. That's going to change real fast. I just want to be proactive."

At Montreal's Hotel Herman, cucumber skin gets powdered to pack an umami punch. Photo by Dominiq Goyet

Dehydrated Cucumber Skin Powder

After peeling cucumbers and compressing them in sous-vide bags for cucumber served with oyster emulsion, Montreal restaurant Hotel Herman’s Chef Marc-Alexandre Mercier saves the skins, then grills and dehydrates them into a garnishing powder. This builds in another level of flavor from the same ingredient, and looks handsome on the plate to boot.

[quote position="left" is_quote="false"]Let’s be honest: carrot frond pesto is so 2014.[/quote]

“The idea is not necessarily use vegetable off-cuts but to use as much as we can from the products we are already using,” says Mercier. “We do this to show how vegetables are versatile and explore the different way to showcase them but also as a cooking challenge, as a way to respect the products and the environment.”

For bonus reuse points, this dish is garnished with oil infused with coriander stems.

The Buffalo Jump's fried sunflower heads are well worth the effort. Photo via The Buffalo Jump

Deep-Fried Sunflower Head

Chef Brandon Baltzley, who cooks at The Buffalo Jump in East Falmouth, Massachusetts, first started working with sunflowers in Alberta, where he was introduced to a super-high-quality canola oil.

“I used it as finishing oil for fish and pasta, to keep all my ingredients local, rather than the extra virgin olive oils other chefs use,” he says.

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]We do this also as a cooking challenge, as a way to respect the products and the environment.[/quote]

That led to his current interest in sunflower oil, which subsequently led to experiments with the flowers themselves, including drying petals for a powder garnish and crushing stems for vinegar. In this dish, Baltzley treats large, meaty sunflower heads a bit like artichokes, soaking them in milk so they don’t oxidize. Pieces are then breaded with cornmeal and flour, fried in sunflower oil and garnished with a mixture of salt and bee pollen.

“It's like a vegetarian veal sweetbread,” he says.

The dish is then served with aioli made with nasturtium leaves. However, prepping this dish at home isn’t for the faint of heart—Baltzley recommends wearing gloves while handling the flowers, or to have heavy-duty soap on hand for afterwards; the sticky sap they leave on your hands won’t wash out easily.

“They also have loads of ants on them, which if you’re into that sort of thing, you can eat,” he adds. We’d call that next-level bug-to-stem cooking.

Who knew leek roots could look so beautiful? Photo via The Acorn

Cilantro And Wild Leek Roots

Chef Rob Clarke, who helms the kitchen at Vancouver’s The Acorn, has a thing for wild leeks. Before moving west to British Columbia from Ontario, he foraged ten pounds of the leafy green, pureed it into pesto and brought it with him on the airplane. When he’s able to get his hands on some, he uses every inch of the plant, including the roots, which he scrubs and deep-fries.

“It’s almost like fried garlic, if you have them at the correct temperature,” he says. “It’s a great garnish, it adds a nice texture and nutty garlic onion flavor.”

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]Usually we end up with at least three to four containers worth of arugula. It’s just downright disrespectful.[/quote]

At his vegetable-forward restaurant, he typically serves the roots as a garnish, for instance, on a ragu of fresh spring vegetables including fiddleheads, asparagus, fresh peas and favas, along with a sauce of blended caramelized honey and nasturtium leaves. They also frequently use long, creamy-white cilantro roots in dressings and sauces, simply because they have “far more flavor and depth” than the rest of the plant.

“It’s a little more difficult to find them,” says Clarke. “If you have a farm you go to or a farmer you know, just ask them to bring the roots next week. I’m sure they’d be happy to sell them to you.”

Why make stock when you can make ice cream? Photo via Union

Fennel-Stalk Sorbet

It’s common to use vegetable ends for stock, but Union’s Chef Bruce Kalman says that’s a cop-out.

“Typically, when a portion of an ingredient is rendered stock-worthy, it’s because we don’t know how to process it to make it user-friendly,” he says. “I find it to be a very creative outlet to figure out how to use the bits and pieces that no one else will.”

That means his fennel stalks—which he says are “really fibrous and hard to eat, even roasted or braised”—aren’t headed straight for the stockpot. Instead, he juices fronds and stalks, making a simple syrup with sugar and lemon juice that is then processed into a garnishing sorbet on Union’s arugula, fennel and citrus salad.

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]I find it to be a very creative outlet to figure out how to use the bits and pieces that no one else will.[/quote]

Kalman takes wasted and bruised produce very seriously. When he catches young cooks stuffing arugula into their stations, “as if a car crusher was involved,” he tries to make it a teaching moment, dumping it out and dropping it gently back into the container.

“Often cooks have the mentality to fit as much product on their station for service so they are ready for battle,” he says. “Usually we end up with at least three to four containers worth of arugula. It’s just downright disrespectful.”

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