The Chef Brothers Pioneering Food Up-cycling

SLIDESHOW: Barber cooks fish bones, bruised and misshapen vegetables, stale bread and other items not commonly thought of as food.

Dan and David Barber are co-founders of Blue Hill farm and restaurant, putting waste on the menu and revolutionising how we think about food.

Executive chef Dan Barber, a board member of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, blurs the line between the dining experience and the educational, bringing the principles of good farming directly to the table. Barber was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2009 and appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.

First set up in New York in 2015, Barber’s WastED pop-up stood out: inside his Greenwich Village restaurant, normally known as Blue Hill, he cooked fish bones, bruised and misshapen vegetables, stale bread and other items not commonly thought of as food. “Following the juice craze, I turned the pulp left over from the cold-pressed juice industry into a seasoned vegetable burger patty. When you think about the energy that was spent to grow these vegetables, mostly organic, and the quality of nutritious fibre that is discarded, you want to turn them into something,” the chef explains.

How would you feel about crisp, golden ‘rescued veal nuggets’ served in an egg box with smoked tomato seconds ketchup, mango scrap, ginger mulch chutney, and ash mayonnaise? It actually tastes delicious.

The Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture is a 32-hectare farm at the northern tip of Manhattan, comprising Barber’s restaurant, Blue Hill. Established on a former Rockefeller estate, the working farm acts as an educative centre dedicated to training young chefs and aspiring farmers. Run as a non-profit organisation, the centre also welcomes 10,000 children raised in urban environments every year through school trips and another 100,000 gastronomes and locals who venture out for fresh air and locally grown food. A new generation of farmers is taught how to make compost, rear pigs outdoors, landscape and even repair mechanical tools. In parallel, they also follow courses in marketing, food legislation, fertiliser control and even learn how to reintroduce ancient crops or old varieties of poultry.

“Less than a decade ago, recycling in hospitality was a display of commercial sensibility. Today, it is forming a fundamental part of restaurant and hotel operational viability globally, says Linda Monique, Australian food designer and consultant. "Minimising waste, up-cycling and reducing environmental impact have become commonplace.”

A few years back, Monique set up Scrap Lab, a culinary experience at Andaz Liverpool Street in London. There, she turned hundreds of juiced oranges from breakfast service into jars of marmalade and created sea-bass cheek ceviche out of the hundreds of chopped-off fish heads from lunch service. “Taking common food by-products not only reduced waste, but created value-added products. Today, wastage stands for more than inefficiency and costliness. Championing and creatively re-using food has fast become a common practice. Food wastage is rife. Chefs globally are now striving for more sensible practices. They are championing less-than-perfect produce, using all components creatively and being mindful of how they design and operate their ventures.”

According to Barber, mentalities need to change as ‘foodies’ are always seen as radical. “Even if we are seen as dreamers, we foodies ensure the future of good food; we challenge our habits and are open to new taste. But, more importantly, we are not open to any sort of compromise when our health and the future of taste are at stake."


David Barber, co-founder of Blue Hill Restaurant

How would you define ‘waste’ in the food industry?

Food waste management is an integral part of any restaurant, simply because no restaurant can afford to waste. Every chef will tell you that they try hard, on a day-to-day basis, to throw the minimum away. The bigger ‘waste’ problem is embedded in the food system, as it is part of the supply chain: most of the time waste isn’t even delivered to restaurants. And that’s precisely where chefs can become creative.

What happened when you launched WastED?

We were flooded with ideas to face issues suppliers have been bothered with for decades. Today, there is no market for waste. We simply have to create one. It is a new frontier for restaurateurs: I believe we can leverage the creativity of chefs and kitchens to create a market place for items farmers and suppliers have been discarding for decades. Think of the juice pulp or left over barista latte milk that we turned into a burger patty and bran and milk bread for the pop-up restaurant WastED London.

How do you feel about the US food industry?

We invented efficiency and created a waste stream, always on the look-out to produce single ingredients at scale. When you look at older cuisines, such as the English, for example, there was no opportunity to waste. Waste was reintegrated into the cooking process.

What is your aim for the near future?

To rethink the supply chain to make everything available delicious. And, of course, the long-term goal is that ‘waste’ simply disappears, because we have created markets for it. If people pay for it and find it delicious, then it isn’t waste anymore.

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