Journal

Inside London’s Most Radical Pop-Up

30th March 2017

Interviews: Ebony-Renee Baker
Photographs: Dan Dennison

It takes a lot to convince 80 busy restaurant people – chefs, waiters, bartenders, hosts and behind-the-scenes organisers – to drop everything and devote five weeks of their lives to a pop-up above a department store in central London. But that’s what’s happened at wastED, which opened on 24 February and ends its run at Selfridges this Sunday. Everyone involved in this singular event sacrificed something for it, some even travelling from the other side of the world to take part. Why?

There are several reasons. For one, wastED is tackling one of the biggest problems in the restaurant industry head-on. Roughly a third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year gets lost or wasted, according to the FAO. Restaurants are a major offender, a fact that many in the business are eager to change. By joining forces with local farmers, fishermen, suppliers and retailers to “reimagine by-products at every link in the food chain”, wastED (which debuted in New York in 2015) is trying to push the conversation forward and get people – chefs and customers alike – thinking about waste in a different way.

It also helps that the driving force behind the project is one of the most celebrated chefs in America right now. Dan Barber runs two restaurants in New York state – Blue Hill in Manhattan, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns an hour outside the city. Some know him from his hugely influential 2015 book The Third Plate, which argued for an overhaul of the way we grow, cook and eat; others from the Netflix series Chef’s Table, which featured him in the first series. This is Barber’s first cooking appearance in London and it’s not surprising that so many people have gone to such lengths to work alongside him.

As wastEd London draws to a close, we asked 11 key members of his team what they’ve learned from the experience. (And click here for our interview with Dan Barber.)

April Lily Partridge

Chef
Worked at the Clove Club for the last year and a half. Next, she will be working at Blue Hill at Stone Barns for a year. Follow: Twitter

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What have you learned?

Barista milk was a big one for me. We’ve got E5 Bakehouse [in east London] making the most amazing bread for us, it’s a barista milk brown loaf. At the end of their day, they save something crazy like three litres of milk from their barista. And that’s just one place. If you think of chains like Costa and Starbucks, how much milk must they be wasting? We’ve been making fresh yoghurt from it, we’ve been making curds from it, we’ve made bread from it, there’s so much you can do with barista milk.

What will you do differently in future?

I’ll think differently as a chef completely. It’s thinking outside the box. For example a leek: a lot of restaurants will discard the top part, which is a bit bitter. We make a leek oil out of the tops and then blacken the rest in the Josper grill. We use the oil to make a mayonnaise and then blend through the blackened leek tops to create a speckled effect. Another example: we had Alain Ducasse as a guest chef and he used all of the vegetable peelings and dried them out and made crisps from them. And they were absolutely delicious. It’s just little things like that where you think, Okay so if I had a restaurant and I was making five litres of stock a day, could I make a bar snack as well?

Anya Montague

Bartender
Anya runs a bar consultancy company in Asia and lives between Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Thailand. She is opening a bar in London this year. Follow: Instagram

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What have you learned?

It’s amazing having the guest chefs every day. Douglas [McMaster] from Silo in Brighton was incredible. They’ve got this compost machine at the restaurant and they’d been composting loads of lemons, the outsides of them, the week before. Then he took the compost and baked carrots in them. So you had normal-looking carrots, but when you bit into them they were just like lemon. It was so peculiar: there was not a trace of lemon on the dish or no squeeze of lemon juice or anything like that.
In the bar, we’ve got a clarified Bloody Mary which is also a mind-trip. It’s completely clear, it almost looks like a glass of water, but it’s got all the essentials of a Bloody Mary in it: passata made from ugly tomatoes, a flat champagne soy vinegar, vodka, all the spices, horseradish, and then whey left over from cheese production which splits it all. You put it through a cheese cloth and it goes completely clear, it’s amazing.

 

Jonathan Bone

Joint Head Chef
Worked at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay for seven years and is opening a new restaurant with Clare Smyth, the former RGR head chef. Follow: Instagram

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What have you learned?

One of my favourite dishes was the cod’s head – utilising some of the pieces of meat on that head was phenomenal. It’s got flavour, it’s super juicy, it’s sweet – it’s phenomenal. But hardly anyone uses it.

What will you do differently in future?

A chef generally doesn’t waste anything. In our kitchens, we’re always using everything, in any way we can – in family meals and staff food and things like that. I think it’s just about showcasing those secondary ingredients rather than just having them as something to use.

 

Laura Paine

Chef
Studied at the National Gourmet Institute in New York and interned for Dan Barber at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. She works as a freelance chef. Follow: Instagram

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What have you learned?

The fact that waste caviar exists has sort of blown my mind. We got a bag in the other day that had a £5000 street value in terms of its weight. It sounds like I’m talking about drugs but no, it’s just fish eggs. It was just because, in their factory, when they’re decanting from big tubs into the little tubs that people buy them in, they don’t want to scrape them out too much and damage the eggs so they just do a cursory wipe around and there’s all this caviar left over. It’s perfect and beautiful and there’s nothing wrong with it and they just throw it away. It seems crazy that something with such a high value gets thrown, when a little bit of imagination is all it takes to find another use for it.

 

Richard Robert Phillips

Head of pastry
Worked for three years at NUR Restaurant in Hong Kong until it closed in August. Now doing a series of pop-ups.

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What have you learned?

It was a real shock the first week to see what stuff we’ve been throwing in the bin that could actually be used. Like mango skins. We made a confit out of them, treating them the same way you would orange or lemon marmalade. We blanche them and then cook them in a stock soup for about half an hour. It’s not quite as pungent as mango flesh, but just the idea behind it was great.

 

Ruth Osborne

Guest Chef Liaison
Works on special projects within the hospitality industry and co-runs Wine Car Boot, an independent wine tasting event. Follow: Instagram

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What drew you to this project?

I love the educational side of it. I’ve been challenged by a number of customers here going: “What’s the point? It’s only five and a half weeks.” To be honest, we’re not preaching to chefs. Chefs live this life already, they don’t waste food. But what I like is that every day, we have conversations with the general public around quite how much food waste there is. It’s opening people’s eyes. I don’t think we’re going to change the world, but it’s great if a few people go home and consider what’s in their fridge and what they’re purchasing and what meat they buy and how they look after themselves. Change doesn’t have to be grand: every little bit counts, and if we do lots of little bits, that’s how snowballs build.

What have you learned?

I was a vegetarian for 12 years and only recently started eating meat, and so the veal on the menu has been really challenging for me. That’s not something I ever thought I would eat. I’ve listened to the arguments for and against. The fact is that there is a huge waste there, and it’s actually not very respectful to those animals. You don’t have to eat it, but I’ve tried it, I actually quite enjoyed it. These are male calves that would normally be shot at birth. But they’re being reared on their mother’s milk and in pasture, having a short but good life, and then used as food, rather than being disposed of, which is hugely wasteful. I don’t think I’d go out and eat veal every day, but the veal we’re eating here is very different and there should be a market for it.

 

Katie O’Shea

Chef de partie in the pastry section
Katie has been working as a chef for the last five years. Follow: Instagram

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What have you learned?

One of the big things that I’ve learned is that generally, if something takes a little bit more time or effort, most people will throw it away. On pastry, we’re using cocoa husks, which is a huge by-product of the chocolate industry. Big chocolate companies in London have been sending us cocoa husks and they’re so delicious, they’re so full of flavour, but they just take that little bit of extra time. It’s amazing what you can achieve if you put a bit more time into it.

 

Terry Threlfall

Wine & spirits buyer at Selfridges. Follow: Instagram

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What have you learned?

After talking with Dan, I went to all of my suppliers and asked “What waste do you have? Those vintages or samples that you can’t sell to normal buyers, sell them to me and we’ll see what we can do.” They sent me a lot of old grand cru white Burgundy, and a lot of old Bordeaux. They can’t really sell them because the levels are too low, the labels are ripped, or it’s a slightly off vintage – but many of them are perfectly fine. We came up with an idea called wastED Chances. We’ve got this bin and basically you pick a card and it corresponds to a bottle. There’s one charge, £48, and you may get a bottle that’s worth £500, or it may be worth £5. If you don’t like the wine, it goes right back to our amazing bar team and they put it into a perpetual vermouth so it comes back as a cocktail. They call it dead wine spritz.

 

Zoe Van Der Grinten

Head Bartender
Worked in pastry in New York before moving to London and becoming a bartender. She worked at White Lyan in east London and is now at Swift in Soho. Follow: Instagram

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What have you learned?

Having all the different guest chefs in has been amazing. I think one of the moments that hit me the most was when Matt Orlando from Amass [in Copenhagen] came in and he was explaining his dish but he had said there are no by-products, only other products – which is, once you think about it, extremely true but not many people look at it that way.

 

Euan Blackmore

Head waiter
Worked as a bar manager at Granger & Co. Plans to open a restaurant in London with some ex-colleagues. Follow: Instagram

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What have you learned?

In the two years since Dan did the first wastED, suppliers have gotten a lot better at using their waste, so it’s actually been quite difficult for them to get hold of stuff – and also to stop the industry getting rid of it so quickly. Finding out how to get a hold of it, establishing those relationships, and learning how we can use more stuff has been great. It’s been interesting working with the Trash Tiki guys behind the bar as well. Their off-cut cordial is a wonderful idea and it’s really cool.

 

Ian Scaramuzza

Joint head chef
Was head chef at Hibiscus, then won a Roux Scholarship and worked under Corey Lee at Benu in San Francisco. Follow: Instagram

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What have you learned?

As the head chef at a two-star Michelin restaurant, I was so used to picking up the phone and calling the supplier and saying I want this, I want that. So the biggest thing for me is learning that some things are wasted that you’d never know about, because you’re never exposed to it, so you never think about it, you’re in a London kitchen calling things in and you just phone for the best produce. So I’ve learned how to go further back: go straight to the farmers rather than just phoning up the supplier. Going back and back, further down the chain closer to the actual product, I think that’s one of the most important things I’ve learned.

wastED London runs until Sunday 4 April 2017. More info at www.wastedlondon.com

Interview: Dan Barber’s War On Waste

Posted 30th March 2017

In Journal

 

Interviews: Ebony-Renee Baker
Photographs: Dan Dennison

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