Check out your compost bin or trash at the end of a shift, and you’re sure to find perfectly good produce that’s getting tossed away. Bruised, dented and otherwise imperfect fruits and veggies are often the first things to be discarded, but a little attitude upcycling can help you turn them into delicious, sustainable and profitable menu items.
Meet the No Waste Chef
If you’re not sure how to get started, you might want to start following @nowastechef on social media platforms. That’s the planet-conscious account of Keith Lord, director of operations and culinary at The Wild Thyme Company Catering and Events in San Diego, California. Lord is fighting what he calls a “cult of perfection” that contributes to the wasting of 40 percent of food produced in the United States.
“Being more open to using ugly produce requires a bit of a mind shift,” Lord says. “But think about it—no one ever eats the outside of a cantaloupe or an avocado, so why are you so worried about how it looks?” He notes that many chefs have been taught to use only the “best” (most beautiful) ingredients, but he’s working to change culinary hearts and minds.
Flavor 10, looks 3
Much of the produce grown by farmers does not make it to grocery store shelves because it’s not picture-perfect. But when it’s being cut up and cooked, these imperfections don’t matter. “Sometimes the flavor of something like tomatoes or peaches can be incredible, but they’re about to go bad or maybe don’t look the best,” Lord says. “Take advantage of that by upcycling them, and you can make a big change in your kitchen.
It’s a sustainability message that diners are increasingly interested in hearing more about. Just as they embraced “Farm to Table,” they will be equally willing to embrace “No Waste Kitchens,” Lord believes.
Making ugly happen
In the San Diego area, he’s lucky enough to have the organization Save Good Food, founded by Naz Athina Kallel in 2015. “I call her the ugly produce girl,” Lord says. “She connects chefs with farmers who have too much of something, or something that’s not looking beautiful.”
In your own area, Lord suggests talking with your produce distributor and letting them know you’re interested in opportunities to use ugly produce. “You also need to be ready to can, freeze, dehydrate and pickle when something comes in,” he says. “Work ahead to make the most of an ugly windfall.”
T. Marzetti™ tip
Even the ugliest produce perks up with a drizzle of Marzetti® dressings or sauces.