The milk crate is an iconic symbol of the working class hospitality stiff. These durable, utilitarian boxes are used as walk-in cooler shelving as often as they are transformed into make-shift chairs, stools or tables. Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant — front of house or back — has found themselves sitting on one for a moment of respite. They are ‘the great back-alley equalizer’, and because of this, they are a venue for some of the most authentic conversations and honest human connections happening in the industry.
Recent research estimates that 20% (or 11 million tonnes) of all the food produced in Canada each year becomes (avoidable) waste – food that could have been eaten, but was instead sent to a landfill, incinerated or managed as organic waste.
Talk to us about food waste. Does your restaurant use any strategies to reduce waste? What small tip or trick can your kitchen suggest that you think could be adopted by home cooks?
Terrence Feng | Co-Owner, Kin Kao
Our kitchen practices zero waste whenever possible. It’s not always 100%, but our crew reuses as much as they can in the form of sauces and staff meals. With the limited space we have, we try and be as creative as possible, and use it immediately for cooking to avoid storage clutter. The one thing that I wish we didn’t see as much of is over-ordering by customers and not packing leftovers. Unfortunately, in the age of Instagram and Tiktok, some order off of videos and pictures just to snap a shot but have little to no intention of eating it.
This is an interesting one for me – we are constantly talking about it at all of our stores, and we have found the biggest impact is when we talk about food security and the impact food waste has on the entire system. Every piece of food lost is an increased cost somewhere for someone. On a store level, we work with Too Good To Go (https://toogoodtogo.ca/en-ca)- they offer food packages for pick up at the end of the evening that might otherwise end up as food waste. Fermentation, pickling and preserving may be a little daunting or spatially challenging for many, so we make purees and sauces frequently, and store them for future use by bagging them up and flat-freezing them – something anyone can do at home with a blender and a ziploc bag.
Restaurants want to combat food waste not just because it’s, well, wasteful – but also because it is costly for businesses to be throwing out food! “Staff meal” is one way many spots are redirecting potential waste, but (depending on the size of the team) there can still be leftover food. We run a food program that works closely with farms and what they have available, which forces flexibility. By changing the menu daily, we’re able to make adjustments to keep everything fresh. Working with smaller producers means multiple deliveries in smaller amounts, which helps us control our volumes (and leaves little waste). Our farms/bakers/meat suppliers have also started to drop “seconds” (products with minor flaws) or extra products, which is awesome! The community fridge on our property that we set up with LOAF (Local Open Access Fridge) has been great for tackling our potential waste, as we redirect any extra food we have there. It’s of course a bit unique to have a community fridge on the property, but as there are a few fridges throughout the city, it’s possible one is close to your restaurant or home. There are also apps now, like Too Good to Go, that connect users to food before it goes bad. This allows businesses to reduce waste and for folks to access food at a lower cost.
Fraser MacDonald | Co-Owner, GoodFish Seafood
Although we are not a restaurant, we think about food waste a lot and have worked to find ways to help our customers minimize or eliminate any waste in our seafood. We’ve done this in a few ways, focusing on frozen-at-sea fisheries, small batch fresh fisheries, and processing our seafood into smaller, more manageable portion sizes. Our focus on frozen-at-sea fisheries ensures a long frozen shelf life for our fish while maintaining the high-quality people look for, giving our customers and chefs as much time as they need to enjoy the fish. When fishing fresh halibut or sablefish, we fish small batches on shorter trips so the fish is as fresh as possible, giving our customers more time with a fish before it could go to waste. Our two main tips would be: only thaw as much fish you can eat in the next few days, and make sure if you buy fresh fish that you won’t be cooking for a while, to freeze it to extend the shelf life. And don’t be afraid to experiment with whole fish and eating parts you haven’t tried before – sablefish collars, halibut or lingcod cheeks, or even spot prawn heads are delicious and can go to waste if people don’t know how good they are!
We don’t produce much food waste. Most of our product gets used start until finish. Any leftover bits and bobs we use for other food menu items and/or staff consumption. We make stocks with our carcasses, and any trim we have normally gets used up. It’s nothing new, but I suggest home cooks make stocks and freeze them. I find that when I’m cooking at home, having some sort of stock on hand is always useful.
Karima Chellouf | Oh Carolina
Our place is small, and our waste is minimal, but we have donated bread in the past to programs like Food Runners (which is wonderful). Some tips for home cooks include considering if there are regular items of theirs that become waste: why they didn’t get used, and what the barriers are, or what tools can help shift their approach. Some people make soups, put a ‘To Use Up’ list on the fridge or set text reminders, or move items to a more visible shelf to keep them front-of-mind.
Our Back-of-House actually has a system in place where we average out the sales and prep based on how much is actually consumed, and if an item is 86’d for the evening, we won’t prep more so the rest won’t go to waste. We also ask that our Front of House staff not allow guests to order too much food. Wasting food not only wastes money, but also the water and energy it took to produce the food. We understand food insecurity on this planet through relatives in Afghanistan telling stories of their daily lives, so we try out mitigate our wastage before it ever gets to that point.
The single best thing you can do to reduce food waste is to shop daily. I often stop by my local grocery store on my way home to pick up whatever is needed for dinner that night. Shopping at a Farmer’s Market is also great – knowing who grew your food makes you more conscientious about how you use it and about not wasting it.
Get creative with your fruit and veggie trim! Use them in stocks, Add fruit pits to vinegar, dehydrate peels and blitz them with salt, or sugar, or citric acid to turn them into the seasoning. Not ready to use your scraps – freeze them to use later!!
Food waste is upsetting. We try not to think about it because we can spiral. Instead, we focus on doing what we can. A BIG part of our business, and something we are pretty proud of, is not only how little waste we produce, but how much food we purchase that would be considered ‘waste’ (fruit or veggies that are hard to sell – and often end up in compost – because of some small blemish, dent or hole). Knowing that we put a few extra hundred dollars into a farmer’s pocket rather than wasting beautiful, tasty produce – that makes us feel good, it helps us go on some days.
Grant Sceney | Head of Beverage, Fairmont Pacific Rim
Our kitchen and bars use many different strategies to try minimize food waste, from using left over bones for broths and stocks, to using leftover citrus peels for oleo saccharums to then be used in our cocktails. In the Lobby Lounge we have a drink on the menu that uses acidified orange juice. We peel a lot of oranges to garnish our Old Fashioneds and Negronis (over 10,000 YTD), and as a result of that we have a lot of left over orange juice. First, we acidify it with citric acid, then we use it in our tequila orange sour, the Clockwork Orange.
The most effective way to reduce food waste at home is to pre-plan meals and do weekly meal prep. The avoidable waste comes from portions that are too large, or from shopping last minute (or when you’re hungry) and not properly planning your meals out for the week. A lot of planning goes into running kitchens and bars, this is the biggest take away to reduce waste at home.
You learn a thing or two from an Executive Chef who has endured war, famine and resettlement in a new country – you do not waste any part of a plant or animal! We stick to a couple of mottos that help us keep food waste to a minimum: “First in, first out” and “Label that #^%*!” Try dating your left overs or organizing your produce so you know which ones you need to cook and eat first; then explore soups, stews, salad rolls or fried rice to finish the mish-mash of groceries in your fridge.
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