HAVING BEEN RAISED in the presence of a Depression-era grandmother who even went to college to study home economics, I have a built-in thing about food waste. So I was delighted to see a new cookbook from the James Beard Foundation called “Waste Not: Recipes and Tips for Full-Use Cooking from America’s Best Chefs,” and a campaign of anti-food waste advocacy spearheaded by that organization.
Chef Tiffany Derry is a contributor to the “Waste Not” cookbook, and a former star and fan favorite of “Top Chef,” among other culinary accomplishments. We talked about becoming “thoughtful, intentional cooks”–about getting the most out of every vegetable and herb (no, not just the tender little leaves but even the stems); why cooking a whole fish is the most economical way to go; about how even pulp left behind from juicing finds a role in everything from veggie burgers to the thickening of sauces. There is no time like the holiday season to think about avoiding food waste.
I also learned about the 200ish chefs who have gone through the Beard Boot Camp to become advocates on sustainability and social issues.
Plus: Enter to win the “Waste Not” cookbook in the comments box at the very bottom of the page.
Read along as you listen to the Nov. 19, 2018 edition of my public-radio show and podcast using the player below. You can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).
‘waste not’ cooking advice, from chef tiffany derry
Q. Hello, Tiffany. We’re talking to you from the Dallas area, right?
A. Yes, that’s correct.
Q. I’m glad we’re talking now for the show that is going to air right before Thanksgiving, and the beginning of the holiday season, because no time is more urgent I think to get tactical about avoiding waste, is it, in the kitchen?
A. Right. I mean, when you have … First off, the holiday time, when you think about how much is truly wasted. So it couldn’t be a better time to discuss it because people don’t use full use of their vegetables, you know?
A. When they’re using carrots, they cut off those bottoms and throw away the tops and shave off all of the outside of the skin. And, you know, it’s a time for us to step back and think, “O.K., how do I contribute to the environment? What am I doing in my household? How can I be better?” And the question I hear a lot of people say is, “Well, I don’t know where to start. I mean, tell me?” And so I think the “Waste Not” book is a great example and can get people on the right track.
Q. Yes. And the new cookbook has some startling sort of stats about waste. You probably know them by heart, I don’t know. [Laughter.]
A. Yes, I mean, for me I remember the first time I went to the James Beard Boot Camp, and it’s kind of this place where we go to some farm or in some area and it’s a group of chefs, sometimes about 10 to 12 of us. And we all learn sort of what’s happening around the country. And at that time we were talking about the farm bill and the food waste particular part of it. And they told us that 40 percent of the food grown in the U.S. gets thrown away. And that-
A. Just blew my mind! [Laughter.]
A. I mean, 40 percent. And then I’m like, “Is it in the restaurant? Is it people’s homes?” And they’re like, “No, including food that never makes it off of the farm.” Vegetables grown that are allowed to fall, simply because, you know, not enough demand for it; too much of a short season; not enough employees get it at that timeline.
You know, just a staggering amount of information, and I remember just being, “40 percent.” And I get thinking about how many people are hungry in this country and we are throwing away food. And I’m like, “We have to do better! What can I do? Teach me!” [Laughter.]
Q. Yes. And so … And that, as sort of a corollary to that, I think it’s that 25 percent of all the fresh water in the United States is used to produce food that’s wasted. So we’re squandering our most precious resource of all, on which all life depends, including the food we’re trying to grow and the animals we’re trying to grow for food and blah, blah, blah. So it’s a water-wasting, too, right?
A. Yes, yes. I mean, from water to diesel, when you think about it. I mean, all … There are many things that we are using to produce these things that, again, are going ultimately back in our landfills. So there’s major issues there.
Q. Yes. So you just mentioned Boot Camp, and I think I read a little bit about you and I think you went … was it in 2012 you went to the Boot Camp? I can’t remember what year, or was it one of the earlier classes? I can’t remember. The people who contributed to this cookbook, many of them went to the Boot Camp, I think.
A. Correct. Yes. A lot of the contributors have gone through Boot Camp. I believe there’s over maybe 200 chefs who’ve all gone through the Boot Camp to become advocates on sustainability and social issues. And so the Boot Camp just kind of gets you ready and empowers you to go back and see your community and figure out ways to make it happen. But I remember I was at the Boot Camp with Rick Bayless, you know, and-
Q. Yes, of course, sure.
A. And, “Rick Bayless?” You know? It’s just … We all have our fan stuff as well. And you’re with great folks doing amazing things in their communities.
Q. So that’s another prong. The book is one prong, the Boot Camp for a number of years has been one element of this advocacy. And I guess there’s other parts of the campaign as well that the James Beard Foundation is getting behind. So it’s a big effort on a lot of fronts.
Q. And one thing is called Waste Not Wednesday, and that’s part of the campaign. And I’ve seen you did like a public service announcement for that. So let’s say we’re going to try to waste not every day of the week. If we kind of closed our eyes and you told us like how you’d set up your kitchen or how you are … What it looks like where you are working as an expert at this, someone who knows not just great cooking techniques but also has this in mind, this saving of food and utilizing every drop.
How do we get ourselves ready? Because I think if we’re not planning in advance, if we’re not anticipating, stuff’s going to go in the trash, right? It’s going to get wasted, isn’t it?
A. You are so right. Yes, I think that, again, we have to become thoughtful, intentional cooks. And in this process, you’re thinking about, “How do I use every piece of everything?” Right?
A. You know, if I … I have a recipe in the book, the whole jerk fish. In the whole jerk fish, people are scared—people are scared to use fish. They’re scared of the eyes; they think it’s difficult. They’re just so … You know, I’m like, “It’s just so tasty, though.” Some of the most flavorful protein come from using meat off the bone, right? That’s where you get all that extra flavor. But, on top of that, it’s cheaper. It’s not as difficult as it seems. And so in the book, you know, we use the whole jerk fish.
And then I take the leftovers, all of those scraps and pieces of fish, chunks of it—because, you know, if you’re feeding a family of two or four, you’re going to have once you buy a nice-sized fish, you’re going to have some scraps left. And that next meal became fish tacos.
And I ended up using some of those same herbs that I had left that I used to make the jerk marinade and you can add in carrots, we added in peppers. Just kind of creating that flavor of something fresh. And then we took that same fish with the bones and made a beautiful stock, a fish stock. And then everything else that we could not use, whether it be vegetables, whether it be some of the scraps left from the herbs that may have turned, went into our compost.
A. Sort of making compost the final decision.
Q. So from this whole fish, you first of all saved money by not buying the much more expensive fillet, which would have just given the one meal, right?
Q. And so then you ended up with all or part of three meals at least, you know? The stock, assuming is going into something later, maybe a soup or whatever.
Q. So much of a better use, and not so much squandered. I mean, who knows what happens when the filet is done at the fishmonger. Who knows what happens to all the other parts? I have no idea. Hopefully they’re being sensible and planning ahead and they have ways of using it that they’re not throwing it away.
And you just mentioned the marinade, the jerk flavoring. I was really interested to see that you advocated not just the perfect little leaflets off the herbs. It’s like the whole thing’s going in there. [Laughter.] Tell us about that.
A. Oh, yes. You know, because it starts in culinary school. You’re taught to pick the leaf. You’re taught to separate this. And this is only for stock, you know?
A. This is something that’s just made for stock. And so I remember one day just picking up and just eating it. Like, “This tastes good. Why am I throwing this away? Why am I just adding this to stock?” You know? It’s so much better if we use it all.
Q. Right, right. Like you might not garnish as you were sending a dish out of the restaurant kitchen—you might not garnish with like the whole stalk of parsley or whatever, you know, that’s 10 inches long with the leaflets at the end. But certainly it has a place, doesn’t it, that bit?
A. It does. And so everything has its place really when you think about it. We were talking about the tomato. And people … A lot of times we look for the perfect tomato, right? We’re spending our hard-earned money, we want a great-looking tomato. So we go and we get that tomato and we can do beautiful tomato salads with it, you know? We can slice it up and put it on sandwiches. We can do so much with it in that state of just being ripe, right?
And then it starts to go and ripen even more. So now you have that overripe tomato. It’s not about figuring out, “Now it’s no good. Now I have to throw it away.”
It’s about also understanding that, “Hey, what’s the purpose for this tomato?” I can’t use this overripe tomato as a sandwich anymore, but it’s perfect for soup, right? Now it’s perfect for pureed sauces and stews and things of that case. So some of it is education and then some of it is, again, just thinking about it and becoming that intentional cook.
Q. Right. So in your kitchen, whether a professional kitchen or especially your home kitchen, are there vessels that receive all these bits and bobs that you’re going to use later? Like, do know what I mean? Are you set up in a particular way? Is there a container in your fridge that you’re putting trimmings in until you have enough to make some stock? Or what are you doing?
A. Yes, actually yes. Everything that … Whether it … Most of the tops … If it’s tops, we use in our salad mixes. So it doesn’t matter what salad; it goes on sandwiches. So if I have carrot tops, that goes in. I have Swiss chard, we chop it up. Everything is chopped into a chiffonade. So it kind of goes into the mix, adding a little bit of flavor. At home, I use everything. So if I’m not using it today, it may become an herb sauce for a fish or chicken. And then we … At home, I, because nobody else cooks here [laughter]–
A. … I’m not salty about that at all. But at home, I will puree it all and just top it with a little olive oil in a Mason jar and just use it as a base sauce every time I’m needing something in the kitchen.
Q. Oh, interesting.
A. And then I do a lot of stocks as well and I freeze them. But I’ll reduce them down so that they’re more concentrated so they don’t take up too much space in the refrigerator or in the freezer.
Q. Right. And really, the freezer … I feel like the freezer is my best friend in home economics in general, you know what I mean?
Q. I’m a household of one, but who’s going to cook a special recipe for one person every day? I might not want to do that, but I’ll cook a big batch and then I’ll portion and I’ll freeze. And so that’s one way that I can cook better quality food and take more care with it, but make it worth my while both in time and in using everything—making a big batch. Because there’s a lot of waste if you really cook for one, because nothing’s packaged for a single serving. Do you know what I mean?
A. Not at all. Oh, yes, yes. The other thing, too, is for folks to remember, it’s O.K. to use your freezer to freeze the leftover fish bones if you’re not ready to make that stock. You can freeze everything that’s needed to go in that stock and have it in the freezer for that day where you’re just at home and you’re cleaning. You know, you just have a little extra time. And do it when it works for you.
Q. Yes. In the “Waste Not” cookbook from The James Beard Foundation. I was fascinated to see that some of the recipes are really fun that your colleagues contributed. And one—well, actually maybe two of them talk about using the juicer as a sort of both … Maybe when stuff’s a little bit … You’re not going to use it. You could like juice up leftover trimmings and use them later in something like in a stock or whatever. But also, the idea of that the leftover pulp of juicing vegetables could go into a veggie burger. I thought that was pretty wacky. [Laughter.]
A. Yes. It’s amazing, right? I mean, when you think about what your left with when you’re juicing, it’s so much. And-
Q. It’s really wasteful if you don’t have a …
A. It’s perfect texture. It’s perfect texture for burgers, when you really thing about it. I mean, when you think about that leftover, it’s already dry. It’s got flavor in it.
A. It’s also great as a thickener.
Q. A thickener? Oh.
A. For soup. Yes. For soup. We do it a lot of times at home for soup. So we just add that right on in.
Q. So like what kind of vegetables would be good as a thickener? I mean, like carrots, celery-
A. Carrots, yes.
Q. O.K. Interesting.
A. Carrots and celery. Because once it gets kind of rehydrated a little bit more, once you put it into the soup, it’ll thicken it slightly. You know, it’s, “Whoa! I need a little water here!” my first time. [Laughter.] “What did I make here?”
Q. Right. Some of the other kind of fun recipes you were talking about using even the stems of things in your chiffonade where you’re making your herbal marinade and whatever flavorings and so forth. And there was a Stem Gratin [photo above, from the book] made of Swiss chard stems. And I don’t know about you, but I like the stems. I cut out the Swiss chard stems if they’re really big and cook them first a little bit more before I wilt the leaves, do you know what I mean, so that they’re-
A. Oh, I do, 100 percent. And you know what? And I love the crunch of stems. We did a salad Monday at the restaurant, and it was kind of a play on a kale-mustard green salad. And so I took mustard greens, lettuce, and we had it fresh and added some collards in there and a little bit of kale. And it really … It came about because it was like, “What do we have left for the day?” [Laughter.] And I was doing this party, and I did pickled mustard green stems.
Q. Oh, good idea.
A. And they are delicious because there’s this little peppery, spicy component that’s still in that stem with the crunch, it’s delicious; it’s delicious. And we added a few duck fat bread crumbs on the top and some Pecorino Romano cheese and it just made a fabulous salad. I kept eating it; I kept going back to that one.
Q. Stock, making stock—because it seems like you were talking about how you can put the stuff in the freezer, whether it’s the fish bones or the poultry bones or bits of vegetables, the tops of carrots and so forth. You could have a bag working until you got enough. I mean, I even use onion peels, you know, the ends and the peels. I use that because I grow them—I know where the onions came from. I know that it’s not nasty or whatever. You know what I mean? It’s-
Q. …grown clean and so forth without sprays. And so I’ll have all that. But do you have stocks or recipes that you adhere to? Or are you a little loosey-goosey about it?
A. No, we’re completely loosey-goosey when it comes to the stocks, when it comes to the vegetable in the stock. The meat we still keep kind of the same amount of bone in it, but it’s whatever we have. We try not to put too much leaf, more so stems, because I don’t want to change the color of it. And the onion skins are a great way to add, especially a yellow onion, that golden amber color-
Q. It’s so beautiful, isn’t it?
A. ..to stocks. Yes, yes.
Q. It’s a natural dye, really. Onion skin, right?
Q. Yes, it’s beautiful.
A. Yes, that’s correct. So it adds a great flavor, finishes the stock with a beautiful color. So just using all of that. And even carrots, you know? You add that carrot color, that flavor. And you can let them cook, you know? Fish stock and shrimp stock, those are quick-cooking stocks. They’re done in 30 to 40 minutes. The chicken and beef stocks, those take a little longer, or take a lot longer.
So when you have some of that … And I put herbs in in stages sometimes, you know? So if we’re cutting or we’re using herbs, I’ll say, “Just add it to the stock pot.” And then by the end, we’re getting kind of that fresh herb flavor.
Q. I remember it’s making me think about your jerk fish again—the whole fish again. And one of the elements in that, the flavoring in that was ginger. And I always hate the … Well, I hate peeling ginger, ’cause it’s sort of a knobby, nasty little creature [laughter]. You know what I mean? It’s a funny thing to peel-
A. Yes, yes. [Laughter.]
Q. Sometimes, just strategically. But also, I saw you didn’t peel it for that.
A. Nope. I chop it up a little bit and make it a little easier to go in and put it right on then. No, it has its own flavor. There are things that I would … Let’s say I’m doing a saute, right? Then I would definitely go ahead and peel the ginger.
But there are recipes when it just doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. It’s going to be pureed up. It’s not going to turn bitter on me. It’s not going to add some flavor that I don’t want. So why are we putting ourselves through all of this? You know? [Laughter.] Chop it all up and add it in there. It’s great flavor.
Q. Right. So some of the other kind of fun tactical recipes in the book … You know, there’s like fried rice and hashes and things that you can do with leftovers. Because, I mean, a lot of people bristle at how they don’t like leftovers. They turn up their nose. But you can transform them. I think there’s even like the … What do they call that, Bubble and Squeak? Where you have a mashed potatoes sort of pancake with like an egg on top or something?
A. Gotcha. Yes, yes. They do that. [Laughter.]
Q. Yes. In the book, I mean.
A. Well, fried rice, you know? When we think about fried rice at any restaurant, fried rice is always made with the leftover rice, right?
A. Because it’s dried out; it’s not going to stick to the pan. It’s going to give the wok a chance to add that charred kind of flavor to it, which is the excellent thing from fried rice. So taking rice … And I cook more than enough. I am a rice head, so you will-
Q. Me, too.
A. You will always find rice-
Q. In my refrigerator. I have a big pot of it every week
A. …in my fridge. [Laughter.] I want it. I cook enough so that I can have leftovers. Really not about just that meal. And so, I mean, for me I eat kimchi a lot the mornings. So I’ll have a bowl of rice with kimchi and a fried egg. Or I’ll just make fried rice. I mean, we do a lot of rice puddings here as well, and it keeps well in the fridge and a nice little touch at the end of the night for those that want to grab a quick snack. But, you know, there’s so much to do with rice. I feel like it’s kind of that … If you look at cultures across the country, everyone’s doing something different. And so there’s always something to cook with rice.
Q. Yes. I feel like that. And I feel like egg is an inexpensive, efficient sort of thing to hold together like the leftover bits of vegetables as well. You know, the sort of frittata kind of a thing?
Q. You know what I mean? Just kind of … It makes it all come together and changes it up from just, “Ooh, there’s some leftover vegetables.” You know?
A. Agree, agree. Yes, I mean, beautiful frittatas and quiche. And, I mean … Even honestly, you know, when we do the en cocotte, when we put it in, just let it kind of steam in the oven with a little extra flavor. And that’s a great use for using the herbs and marinades as kind of just a seasoning, right? You know, all of that herb that we’ve had that we’ve brightened up with a little lemon juice and olive oil; we pureed all of our tops. And just adding those to, again, even the quiche, it would be amazing. And so you kind of create these sauces that you can flavor how you want in your fridge. And they’re ready for you to change the dish.
Q. I just wanted to say I believe On Top Chef you once made tamales, which might be my favorite food in the world.
Q. And, you know, I’m going to tell you my trick for no-waste with tamales is just eat them all. [Laughter.] Because I just love them. But being serious, though, that’s a recipe that’s great to make with friends. Sort of assembly-line style; the work that goes into it-
A. Oh, yes.
Q. And it’s like a manufacturing operation, and everybody can go home with a trayful. I mean, that’s another way and at the holidays and stuff we cook with people that’s another way to be efficient, isn’t it? In the kitchen is to …
A. Yes. Yes.
Q. Share the work and share the ingredients and share the results, right?
A. And sometimes just maybe even doing something a little different for Thanksgiving is always fun. My family every maybe five years they change it up, and we go from our traditional to cooking something … One year we did kind of a Mexican feast and we had all kinds of food. And it was fun.
Traditionally, a lot of people do Christmas tamales, or they’ll take leftover turkey pieces and add them to the tamales right after Thanksgiving. And hey, I mean, honestly they do it with anything left over, and it’s great. And again, making that salsa with whatever you have really works. [Laughter.]
Q. Yes, exactly.
A. Really works.
Q. Well, Tiffany Derry, I’m excited about the new book and I’m grateful to the James Beard Foundation for really in all these different ways doing this advocacy for this subject, because it’s so important and I appreciate your taking the time to talk with me.
enter to win the ‘waste not’ cookbook
I’LL BUY A COPY of “Waste Not: Recipes and Tips for Full-Use Cooking from America’s Best Chefs,” for one lucky reader. All you have to do to enter is answer this question in the comments box at the very bottom of the page:
Do you have any full-use cooking tips to share–or is there some leftover bit of an ingredient you wish you could find a use for?
No answer, or feeling shy? Just say something like “count me in” and I will, but an answer is even better. I’ll pick a random winner after entries close at midnight Tuesday, November 27, 2018. Good luck to all; US and Canada only.
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MY WEEKLY public-radio show, rated a “top-5 garden podcast” by “The Guardian” newspaper in the UK, began its ninth year in March 2018. In 2016, the show won three silver medals for excellence from the Garden Writers Association. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station in the nation. Listen locally in the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Eastern, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Or play Nov. 19, 2018 show using the player near the top of this transcript. You can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).