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Chefs turn food waste into gourmet meals (5 photos)

In this edition of Urban Cowboy, Owen Roberts discusses Sunday's College Royal event, WastED, where three chefs made gourmet grub from things that normally get little respect as food

As far as culinary frontiers go, I’m still warming up to the idea of eating ground-up insects for protein.

But food waste? Well now, that’s another matter.

After watching three professional local chefs Sunday at the University of Guelph’s College Royal quickly work their magic with commodity bits that would normally be discarded – vegetable ash (grilled and dehydrated carrot and onions peels), chick pea water (popularly called aqua faba) and kale stems – I’ll add food waste to my diet any day.

Sunday’s dishes may have come from things that normally get little respect as food. But thanks to the chefs’ creativity and agility – given only 30 minutes to prepare their meal from start to finish, and working with little more than hot plates and prep tables on a stage in the University Centre – the outcome was nothing short of gourmet.  

I suspect the 100 or so people who likewise saw the transformation from garbage to eye-appealing dishes agree. Consider these meals that literally came out of nowhere:

    •    Goat cheese and vegetable ash ravioli, brown butter sage sauce, aquafaba foam and blanched kale stems (chef Vita, from Miijidaa)
    •    Garlic and bread soup with aquafaba, duck rilette, mushroom pate, kale stem relish and vegetable ash breadcrumbs (chef Jaret, Woolwich Arms)
    •    Kale stem, black bean and tofu tamale with aquafaba, vegetable ash aioli, kale stem chimichurri and pop corn (chef Jairo, University of Guelph Hospitality Services)

Does that sound like waste?

While the clock ticked, MC Evan Fraser, scientific director of the university’s Food From Thought program, told about student initiatives (such as WastEd, which generated the Sunday event) and research efforts to reduce food waste, and about programs that help students develop their own approaches to helping feed the growing population. Reducing food waste is a highly important way forward.

Fraser also invited questions from the audience about food waste, and tips from students studying food waste about how to reduce it.

One student noted how she and her housemates, who bought food separately, kept a list on the refrigerator door of their own stockpile and its expiry dates. They encouraged one another to eat whatever was close to expiring -- even if wasn’t theirs -- rather than see it go to waste.

Another student suggested meal planning, for greater efficiency. And still one more urged frequent food shopping trips for smaller quantities of food, so it doesn’t sit in the refrigerator at length and spoil.

A last suggestion came from one of the competition judges, Prof. Bruce McAdams, who said he’s switched to frozen vegetables: their “wasteful” parts are already removed, so he can use his purchase in its entirety.

Once the chefs completed creating their 30-minute gourmet meals, audience members were invited to file past the judging table and see the dishes, while the judges made their assessment.

Because of health regulations, unfortunately only judges were allowed to sample the fare.

In the end, in a tight race, chef Vita’s ash ravioli was named the winner. But it was the anti-food waste movement that was the true winner, with a new and accessible spin on the topic: fight food waste by cooking it instead of throwing out. On Sunday, the pros showed it’s possible.

Now, I can’t wait for the cookbook.