At the 2019 Zero Food Waste Challenge in New York City on May 23, local Michelin-star chefs competed beside soup kitchen cooks to build dishes using upcycled ingredients, or parts of food that would typically be discarded. While chefs presented their creations to a panel of judges, attendees visited eight tasting stations and sipped on Waste Not Welcome Punch, a Finlandia vodka cocktail using upcycled ingredients like grapefruits peels and celery leaf tea.
Cory Tomaino of Rye Brook, New York-based FLIK Hospitality Group won attendees’ popular vote for his gochujang hanger steak and vegetable stem tacos with rainbow chard stem kimchi. “Use herbs stems in pesto, salsa verde, salads, or to infuse oils and vinegars,” the group recommends, attributing the flavorful punch of its tacos to broccoli, parsley, and herb stems. “Store any remaining stalks and herbs in your freezer for nutrient-rich, low-salt home-made vegetable stock, or try fermenting them to make kimchi for grain bowls.”
The judge’s choice went to Michael Anthony of Manhattan’s Gramercy Tavern, who used whole lemons and excess dairy in ricotta tart with lemon confit. “Got extra milk? Fresh ricotta cheese requires no special ingredients or equipment—just milk, cream, lemon juice, salt, a pot, and a colander,” according to the restaurant. At Gramercy Tavern, Anthony uses a food-tracking system to alert the team of when dairy is at risk of expiring—and that’s when the ricotta is made.
Throughout the night, Jake Cohen, Editorial and Test Kitchen Director at The Feedfeed, moderated a discussion between judges and participating chefs. Each chef answered questions on how their dish was created as well as how eaters can recreate the upcycled creations at home, sharing strategies for creating a more sustainable food system used in their own kitchens in New York City.
The event was part of the NYC Food Waste Fair, hosted by The Foundation for New York’s Strongest, the official nonprofit organization of the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY). Leading up to the Challenge was a full-day panel program with more than 70 exhibitors, hands-on workshops and skills training, and demos and tastings in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Panel discussions throughout the day touched on chefs’ role in driving less food waste, or a “waste-minimized world,” as Leanpath CEO and Founder Andrew Shakman said on a panel dedicated to reducing waste along the supply chain.
One in eight people in New York is food insecure, according to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap study in 2017. Meanwhile, in New York State alone, supermarkets, restaurants, colleges, and hospitals waste more than 250,000 tons of food each year. About one-third of all the garbage in the City’s waste stream is organics suitable for composting, a large portion being food. As Brad Nelson, Vice President and Global Operations Discipline Leader at Marriott International, noted at the 2018 NYC Food Tank Summit, “We have a food recovery problem, not a food waste problem.”
The DSNY has been developing initiatives specifically targeting food waste in the City, namely the Zero Waste Initiative. “There’s no ‘away’ when we throw garbage into a can or litter basket,” according to the DSNY website. “Trash goes into landfills, where it decomposes—sending methane, carbon dioxide, and toxins into our air, soil, and water.”
DSNY created the GrowNYC Zero Waste Program, which coordinates weekly recycling initiatives including food scrap drop-off sites, allowing NYC residents to drop their food scraps at one of 60 sites throughout the City for composting. Drop-off sites are conveniently located beside subway stops and at farmers’ markets, aiming to make composting easily fit into New Yorkers’ everyday routines.