Petty Elliott discovers a delicious way to make precious food go further.
“Think of the hungry children on the street.” There goes a saying commonly heard among frustrated parents – especially in Asia – trying to make sure their children eat properly at meal times, reminding those fussy eaters that the food they reject would be welcome at the table of many poor and undernourished children all over the world.
The World Food Programme reports an incredible number of people who go to bed hungry every night. At 795 million, that’s approximately one in every nine people. Surely it is time we all pay more attention to the issue, value our food and avoid unnecessary waste as much as possible.
For starters, it’s certainly not a new idea. The saying “Waste not, want not” has been around for more than 200 years.
Food waste is everywhere today including here in big cities around Indonesia. According to British newspaper The Guardian, as much as 1.3 billion tonnes of food, or about one third of all food produced in the world, is wasted annually. That’s the equivalent of 1.4 billion hectares of good agricultural land that we human beings grow but then throw away!
Incredibly and ironically, as chronic hunger persists, cases of obesity and diabetes are growing fast. The American Medical Association even regards obesity as a disease. Millions of adults and children are overeating and consuming all the wrong kinds of foods. What an odd, out-of-balance world, we live in.
Just last month I discovered an inspiring example of what can be done to address the subject of food waste. The occasion was an enjoyable lunch on a sunny spring day in London in a pop-up restaurant on the rooftop of Selfridges in London by the name of ‘WastED’, short for Wasted Education.
Teaming up with American Chef Dan Barber, the famous retailer supported a series of events to demonstrate a surprising amount of taste in many things we thoughtlessly discard. Back in 2015 at Dan’s ‘Blue Hill at Stone Barns’ restaurant in New York, ranked high among the world’s top 50 establishments, the original ‘WastED’ began to take shape. Selfridges proved a perfect venue for the occasion, due to the fact that it has its own restaurants to source the neglected ingredients.
Recycling opportunities are as long and wide as the food chain itself. There are the obvious ones – such as stale bread, stale ale and leftover stock – as well as the not so obvious – which includes something called aquafaba, the liquid drained from a can of chickpeas, pepper brine from cans of roasted peppers and juice pulp.
In any home kitchen, there is edible value in the tough ends of lettuce butts, broccoli stalks, pineapple cores, spiralized vegetable cores, and even the blood-rich muscles normally trimmed out to make fish fillets.
Huge amounts of waste are produced in food retailing and processing, from off-grade but not rotten fruit and vegetables rejected by supermarkets to cocoa pod husk and fractured rice grains broken in the milling process. There’s nut press cake, spent grain left over from brewing as well as ‘lees’, the particles from fermentation in wine and cider making, and more unusual, ‘cascara’, the dried skin and pulp of the coffee cherry.
In farming there are perfectly tasty older hens that are discarded once they lay fewer eggs. ‘Rescued veal’ is a by-product of dairy farming, being the normally slaughtered male offspring of dairy cows, and of course, waste-fed animals such as free-range pigs are a good example of modern recycling methods.
Now comes the best part, the WastED lunch menu. With 16 different choices and four desserts, it was a triumph of imagination and creativity.
We started with spiralized vegetable cores accompanied by aquafaba salad cream, spinach stalks packed with the goodness of cucumber seeds and skin. The fish and chips were made from fish bones and skin, with egg wrack seaweed and potato cream. Broccoli stems were served in whey with dry aged beef crumble. Next came a salt beef-ends crepe, made from blood and bran, with chickweed and pepper brine hot sauce plus a clever bacon cheeseburger, with the burger patty made from beetroot with waste-fed bacon and beetroot runoff to make the ketchup. The cod’s head kedgeree was delicious using broken rice and spelt bran. In between courses, some of the chefs would play around with delightful little extras, creating tasty pizza from a whole range of discards.
Not surprising when you think about it, the range of beverages was for the most part conventional but I did see the cascara featured in the hot drinks selection. WasteED does offer a stunning range of cocktails with recycled mixtures of fascinating ingredients and mocktails using second flush tea and apple pulp. They make a lot go a very long way!
With only a little room left for dessert we decided to choose the charred pineapple core with overripe banana ice cream, candied mango skins and whey granita, but were too full to sample the waffle scraps treacle tart, the cocoa pod husk panna cotta and the (not) chocolate (not) milk ice cream float – featuring forgotten crab apples.
It was definitely a wholesome meal to savour and inspire. As for the accompanying details, yes, the menu was printed on recycled paper, and the chairs made from recycled materials.
WastED is a new idea for chefs and foodies in Jakarta. It remains to be seen if the trend catches on here. Food for thought, anyone?
WastED ran from 24 February to 2 April 2017 at London’s Selfridges.