By Francine Spiering. Originally published on Life in the Food Lane.
Ever thought about organizing a food waste awareness dinner involving six different chefs who will prepare a dish with ingredients you glean for them in a city where driving 20 minutes is considered “around the corner”? Sounds like a logistical nightmare, right? It could’ve been. But Slow Food Houston did it, and it wasn’t. In fact, it turned out to be a dream event.
That only happened because gleaning was made easy by a ready commitment from local farmers, food and drink producers and a local Whole Foods Market; because chefs involved went truly above and beyond; and because on the night we had a hard working team getting the chefs’ gorgeous food hot and plated; a decorating team getting the long table all nice and ready; a drinks team keeping the libations going; and speakers who brought some food for conversation to the table.
So, this is how things went down.
In no time, we had six chefs committing. No ifs and buts: just a “sure, I’ll cook something.”
Chef Soren would prepare a casserole using salmon head, making gnocchi from potato scraps, use some other kitchen scraps and herbs from his garden. Using everything is what he does, as he mentions in Edible Houston, along with chef Chandler. Chef Chandler resides on a farm an hour north of Houston where he works on the aquaponics system and grows micro greens. The goat milk whey he gleaned from neighboring Blue Heron Farm lacked in fat content (winter being kidding season, the pregnant goats’ milk is less rich). His workaround was to use the whey in polenta to supplement the flavor.
Chef Gina knew straight away what she would bring: “How about pig’s ear tostadas?” And chef Pat was flexible, as always: “waste” is not in her vocabulary, and in fact, her commercial kitchen activities started out when she had a huge box of greens that were headed to the dumpster and instead in her crafty hands ended up as crackers. For her, we got mushrooms, onions and yellow squash gleaned from Whole Foods Market, and a whole bunch of damaged rainbow chard from Knopp Branch Farm. They also donated fallen citrus fruit, soon to be sangria.
Chef Ara generously provided smoked pork belly, and Renaissance Chicken — breeder of rare and hard to find breeds, and a cage free egg seller — donated “unsellable” eggs: “We always have eggs that are too small, or not shaped right, or with a wrinkled shell that we can’t sell.”
Those eggs, along with crusty day-old baguettes from Artisana Bread and “too close to sell-by date” dairy gleaned from Whole Foods Market would be turned into bread pudding by chef Jill Bartholome. Beekeeper Shelley promised to bring honeycomb and raw honey. Just pure, raw honey to drizzle over the bread pudding. There was absolutely no need, no reason to mess with that dessert plan.
Sommelier and fellow Slow Food Houston board member Rachel DelRocco carried in her container of sangria, made with gleaned citrus juice “and then some.” Plus, there was Chicha Morada, the Peruvian purple drink that traditionally uses dried purple corn (kernels and core) and the peel of pineapple as a waste-not drink with spice and fresh fruit. We tried kombucha beer and wild wine, fermented from different fruits; and we ended the evening with yaupon tea.
Food was served family style, from Chef Chandler’s goat milk whey polenta squares with beetroot orange relish and whey-cooked celeriac parsnip puree; Chef Gina’s pigs ear tostadas with fresh jalapeños, avocado and cilantro and vegetarian sweet potato chili tostadas; Chef Soren’s salmon head meat & gnocchi casserole; Chef Pat’s mushroom burgers on a bed of rainbow chard, pickled yellow squash and spicy tomato sauce; Chef Ara’s slow-smoked pork belly and creamy polenta; to Chef Jill’s bread pudding with raw honey and honeycomb.
“Food for thought” was an integrated part of the menu. We invited one of the chefs (Pat Greer), an urban farmer (Thomas Garcia-Prat) and a local master beekeeper (Shelley Rice) to speak about food waste, each from his or her professional perspective. Lacing the menu with food waste discourse proved to be one of the best decisions: it engaged people around the table to join in the conversation.
The hardest thing was to sell tickets. At $50 the price wasn’t the issue; people just weren’t sure what to expect. For many, it appeared, food waste means scraps that go in the bin. It took quite a push on social media, hitting mailing lists and involving local press. For next year’s Glean Taste, we will have the 2016 event to sell it: an image speaks a thousand words.