Innovative ways to tackle food waste

The Sustainable Restaurant Association takes us through a number of different food saving methods used by forward-thinking restaurants across the country.  

7 January 2020
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When it comes to the amount of food that’s wasted in commercial kitchens in the UK, the stats are pretty sobering. According to The Crown Estate, the UK’s foodservice industry wastes enough food to fill London’s Shard more than ten times every year, with such profligacy equating to an annual bill of £2.5bn.

Kitchens across the country are starting to realise that the cost of wasting food is too great and the practice, quite simply, unacceptable. It’s costing the environment - wasted food accounts for almost 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions - while it also comes with an economic cost, with the bill for wasted food for the average restaurant being £20,000 per annum.

By changing their mindset, the chefs and teams featured in this article have proved to themselves and their peers that keeping food out of the bin, preventing it from becoming waste, is just another creative way of using food for the purpose it was intended – to be eaten.

Wonky veg, fish bones and chef incentives

What if you could serve your customers delicious fruit and veg that came with a story, a cheaper price tag and helped to reduce the UK’s 10m tonne food waste mountain?

That’s the direction of Dan Kelly, food director of 40-site workplace caterer Vacherin, who champions wonky veg with the company’s ‘I’mPerfect’ initiative.

In the last 12 months they’ve rescued and served nine tonnes of cosmetically challenged but undeniably fresh produce – one of a range of smart initiatives that helped Vacherin reduce food waste by 25% and win the ‘Waste No Food’ category at the Food Made Good Awards 2019.

Meanwhile, at The Wheatsheaf Chilton Foliat, chef-owner Ollie Hunter has found an edible and delicious use for pretty much any root, leaf or stalk, not to mention fish bones. He orders in salmon carcases for free from Loch Duart, with every three yielding around 1kg of extra flesh – enough for plenty of pizza toppings and pates. The fully stripped bones are then boiled up for the basis of a tasty chowder.

A third great way to stop food from being wasted at source is to capitalise on chefs’ natural competitive streak. This has proved a big success in the kitchens of Darwin & Wallace where group executive chef Simon Duff sets high standards and low targets.

Each kitchen is given an allowance of 0.5% waste. The chefs are also incentivised to create dishes that use every morsel of every ingredient and prove that all of those ingredients add something to the dish.

“The site that wastes the least wins the prize, which could be a trip to Champagne,” says Simon.

“It works so much better than me just lecturing them and giving them hell! By seeing what their peers are doing they can then devise ways of doing even better and the competitive element has made the chefs think about things in a completely new way, resulting in less wasted food.”

Getting fruity

Reusing food is another effective route for tackling  waste, with syrups, dehydrations and juices just some of the resourceful ways Poco Tapas Bar and Old Market Assembly in Bristol have found to extend the life of fruit.

Boiling citrus husks, combining them with malic or citric acid, helps double the yield, thereby halving the footprint of the fruit.

Michelin stars are no barrier to SRA president Raymond Blanc and his team at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons when it comes to giving fruit a second life. With the pulp leftover after juicing apples from their orchard, the kitchen team have created their own take on brown sauce.

As re-use hacks go, they don’t come much simpler or customer friendly than transforming surplus vegetables into soup, a bowl of which is served free with every meal at The Assembles in Bristol.

Getting circular

A plethora of apps and tech solutions including Karma, Too Good To Go, Olio, FareShare and City Harvest, are now providing countless options for foodservice to connect either with customers looking for a bargain, waste-busting meal at the end of the day or with charities that will provide meals for people in need.

Some restaurants have identified hungry non-human mouths they can feed too. The multi-award-winning Aberdeenshire chippy The Bay Fish and Chips has installed a starch filter and a local pig farmer regularly collects multiple litres of potato starch to feed his animals. 

Back in the capital, Café Murano and Sketch are two high profile restaurants working with Pale Green Dot. This circular model sees wasted food collected from the restaurant, turned into compost and used to grow vegetables for them on a designated plot of land.

Another excellent example of this circular economy model is evident at Harissa Kitchen in Newcastle who work in partnership with YMCA Mushrooms who use the restaurant’s waste coffee grounds as the growing medium for its fungi which it then sells back to the restaurant.

For any restaurant that’s yet to fire a serious shot in anger in the war on food waste, help is at hand. The SRA’s Food Waste Bad Taste programme is an easy to follow, structured and practical six week programme designed to help any commercial kitchen get to grips with measuring and managing its food waste as well as support in setting and working towards achievable and ambitious reduction targets. 

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