Food waste is a tremendous problem with far-reaching global effects. In the United States, up to 40% of all food goes uneaten, with most of it ending up in landfills. Reducing the amount of food wasted could feed more people and minimize methane emissions from landfills. As a result, many executive chefs are dedicated to ensuring a sustainable food future and finding creative ways to repurpose items that would otherwise be thrown away.
One of those chefs is Brian Sarofeen. A winner of this year’s ISS Guckenheimer United States Culinary Competition (along with Chef Michael Kedala), Brian works with his team to build sustainability into their daily operations. Below, he highlights a few ways to cut food waste and maintain a sustainable kitchen.
Chef Brian says that one of the best ways to avoid food waste is to ensure you aren’t overproducing and finding novel ways to use leftover items.
“Anything you can repurpose is ideal,” he says. “Saving vegetable scraps for stock is low-hanging fruit—that’s a given. It’s finding creative ways to handle the stuff you can’t turn into stock. For example, our team makes our own vinegars. If we’ve got some berries or vegetables on the verge of going bad, we’ll turn them into a house-made vinegar or dressing for our health bar.”
“Dehydrated mushroom and tomato ends are a great option for adding a spike of umami flavor to anything you’re making.”
2. Understand Your Impact
He says that one of the best things cooks can do is to remember that every bit of effort to reduce waste helps.
“It’s a big deal to help someone understand that it’s bigger than just the food scraps I may throw away,” Chef Brian says. “There’s a lot to remember when it comes to food waste. I mentioned not overproducing, but also thinking ahead about how you can reuse items for future meals goes a long way. You know, instead of being okay with throwing things out, dedicate yourself to learning how to use those extra items to give them new life.”
He says there are many ways to make an impact with how you cook, from fermenting scraps to make hot sauces to pickling your extra vegetables.
“Given how much food waste there is, anything you can do helps solve the problem,” he says. “A lot of professional chefs are obsessed with sustainability, but it’s something everyone can contribute to.”
3. Keep Track of What You Use
Many of us buy in bulk to stock up, only to find that some of the items go bad or end up being unused. In addition to shopping more regularly in smaller amounts, keeping up with what’s available and building meal plans around it can save both food and money.
“We use Winnow here, which is a really amazing way to keep track of and reduce food waste,” Chef Brian says. “Otherwise, it’s easy to end up with a really expensive trash barrel. But even without it, you don’t need to be able to perform brain surgery to keep track of information and put it to use.”
For the average home cook without access to a food waste platform, keeping a “first in first out” methodology for meal planning, labeling your leftovers with dates, and not overbuying can do a lot to reduce waste in your home kitchen.
“With some items, you can only do so much. But it’s finding that extra 5% you can do. Over months and years, that 5% adds up and you’re making a real difference.”