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Six ways to transform your kitchen into zero waste according to world's top chefs

Zero waste living is all about getting creative, like turning breadcrumbs into ice cream and leftover fruits into cocktail ingredients

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By House & Garden | September 11, 2023 | Diy

‘Nature does not really do waste’, writes Edward Bulmer on reducing waste in the interiors industry. ‘In nature what is ‘waste’ from one part of the food chain becomes food for the next part of it. For centuries humans mimicked all other living things in this regard.’ As the world is reminded of that fact, we’ve seen a positive new trend in the restaurant scene of chefs putting the zero-waste concept front and centre. That goes from turning breadcrumbs into ice cream and leftover fruit into cocktails, to even turning broken glassware into serving plates.

Pioneering the movement is Doug McMaster who opened the world’s first zero-waste restaurant, Silo in Brighton in 2015. Here he served food on plates made from unrecyclable plastic bags. Now he’s moved the successful concept to Hackney Wick (where it’s one of the best restaurants in London). At the canal-side location, pendant lights are crafted from foraged seaweed, the bar is wrapped in recycled leather and the dining counter is formed of polyester packaging waste.

The Silo team wastes nothing when it comes to the restaurant’s ingredients; even bread crumbs are immediately scraped from tables into waiting trays, so they can be used as the base of the various richly-flavoured sauces that accompany the dishes and desserts too. Take the Siloaf ice cream sandwich – the bread is left to soak in water for two days until it begins to ferment into a Marmite-like substance, before it is added to sugars to produce a salty-sweet, umami-filled caramel.

While it’s not possible to completely mimic the zero-waste routines of luxury industrial-size restaurant kitchens, we asked some of London's finest for their advice on bringing zero-waste ideas to home kitchens.

Turn leftover herbs into herb oils

Use slightly wilted herbs to create freezer-ready herb oils or pound them in a mortar and pestle with salt, sugar, vinegar and oil to create a salsa. Image via unsplash

‘Rather than wasting your herbs by throwing nearly a whole bunch in the bin when you've used just a few leaves for a recipe, a good way to use them up is to make herb oils,’ says Kitchen Table London's James Knappett. ‘A great way of making mint last is blending it with oil, to make a herb oil which you can actually freeze (in ice trays). All of a sudden you can take a little bit of mint oil out and that goes on your boiled potatoes at the weekend. You can put a bit on your yoghurt, and that goes with roast lamb, or a bit on just sliced tomatoes. The amount of herb oil you get from a bit of mint is a lot – you can be pulling it out of your freezer for so many recipes, and when you take it out, it tastes the same as the day you put it in the freezer, whether it’s a week later or a month later. It’s a similar thing to what we do here at the restaurant.’

Similarly AngloThai founder and head chef at AngloThai x Outcrop John Chantarasak turns leftover herbs into chimichurri: ‘We buy a lot of fresh herbs, when some are looking past their best I pound them in a mortar and pestle with salt, sugar, vinegar and oil to create a salsa verde-chimichurri hybrid condiment that can be used on dishes like steamed fish, grilled steak or roasted potatoes.’

Keep vegetable scraps

Vegetable scraps are a powerful ingredient that create delicious homemade stocks. Image via unsplash

‘My golden rule when it comes to food and ingredients is to question if something can be used before putting it in the bin. Usually, you can find a home for it with a bit of inventive thinking’ John Chantarasak continues. An easy way to do that is to keep hold of scraps in order to make great homemade vegetable stock. ‘Keep a container in the fridge to top up with vegetable peels, stalks from herbs, ends of onions, sad outer leaves of cabbages, woody ends of asparagus, lemongrass husks and the like. When the container is full, after a day or two, add to a saucepan with a few peppercorns and some herbs (if you want) and cover with water. Simmer for an hour, strain and you have a vegetable stock to use in your cooking.’

Use a dehydrator to preserve ingredients

Use a dehydrator to create dehydrated citrus trims is to for cocktail glass rims and garnish. Image via Unsplash

Acme Fire Cult's brilliant Daniel Watkins takes stock-piling from scraps a step further and advises on turning veggie leftovers into stock cubes by using a dehydrator – a great way to preserve seasonal ingredients. ‘A really good piece of kit to have at home, which you can get off Amazon for like £30, is a little dehydrator. You can put in any veg trimmings, peelings or anything that’s not looking its best, dry them out, build them up, add a little bit of kombu powder, and you can make your own veg stock cube. You can also dry your fruit out and put them through your granolas. Anything that I can’t use straight away, I’ll dry out. If you have leftover citrus, take the zest, dehydrate it, blend it and you have a beautiful citrus powder – add that to sugar, salt or vinegar.’

Another way to use dehydrated citrus trims is to create healthy snacks, spices and cocktail glass rims. ‘Utilise all your citrus trim with a dehydrator and dry any excess fruits and vegetables to create delicious healthy snacks or spices that you can use to add flavour to your cooking or salts for margaritas.’ advises Pietro Collina, bar director at Notting Hill's agave bar, Viajante87.

Fried rice as a fridge-clearing exercise

Your fridge is a great place for ingredients in a ‘use-everything-in-your-fridge’ fried rice. Image via Unsplash

‘You can be a purist about fried rice, but in our household, making fried rice is often a fridge-clearing exercise and an excellent low-cost cooking hack,’ says Poon’s London's Amy Poon. ‘It’s all about making use of your leftovers – we use up anything that’s left in the fridge that doesn’t have a strong seasoning, like leftover steak, roast chicken, grilled or roasted fish and any vegetables.’

This is Amy's go-to recipe: ‘Dice your leftovers into small pieces and leave to one side, then finely chop some ginger and onion. Heat oil in a pan, fry off the ginger and onion, add the diced leftovers, a splash of soya sauce, two beaten eggs and the leftover rice. Stir it and break up any clumps of rice as you go so everything is well combined. Keep tossing till heated through. Add chopped spring onion and serve with chilli oil if you like heat. I do a similar version of this dish but served in lettuce leaves as a version of san choi bao. Depending on what’s left over, I add soya sauce and maybe a little oyster sauce. The addition of ginger and onion as fresh ingredients gives things a little lift and keeps costs relatively small.’

Pickling and pickle brine

Top chefs make the most out of lonely vegetables left in the fridge by pickling them, giving them a new life. Image via unsplash.

While some turn to Picklebacks, Jun Tanaka, chef and owner of Michelin-starred French restaurant The Ninth keeps leftover pickle brine and turns it into vinaigrettes. ‘The pickle brine from jars of green olives, jalapeños, capers and gherkins can be used as a base for delicious and interesting vinaigrettes. It works well because the brine is water, vinegar and salt (ingredients for a vinaigrette) which has been infused with the flavour of the capers etc. Add white balsamic vinegar, salt and olive oil for a delicious vinaigrette.’

Daniel Watkins makes the most of lonely vegetables left in the fridge by pickling them. ‘Something I keep on the shelf all the time is a 3-2-1 pickle mix (3 parts water, 2 parts vinegar, 1 part sugar). It’ll sit in your cupboard forever, and then when there’s those rogue vegetables at the bottom of the fridge, salt them and then just pickle them in that mix.’

Turn citrus peels and leftover fruit into cordials and cocktail syrups

Use for leftover fruit in a mocktail ‘shrub’, by combining equal parts vinegar, fruit and sugar, and leave for a couple of days, strain it off, add soda water and you have the most delicious drink. image via pexels.

‘When using fresh produce for the cocktails, we always consider what can be done with the peels, trim, or excess,’ explains Pietro Collina. ‘Instead of juicing the whole citrus, for example, we tend to remove the peels and make an olio sacrum or a cordial. This can be done by combining equal amounts of sugar and citrus peels, resting it for 24 hours, and then using the syrup to make sherbet or bases for our non-alcoholic drinks.'

Daniel Watkins turns to South Korea for ideas for leftover fruit. ‘Cheong syrups are a great use of citrus fruit husks, for when you’ve made orange juice or something like that – I believe it’s a South Korean method normally used with stone fruits. Bury it, 2-to-1 with sugar, leave that for a couple of weeks and you end up with this concentrated citrus syrup which you can use for baking, or add soda water to for a sweet refreshing drink.’

Another use for leftover fruit is cocktail shrubs. ‘A shrub is equal parts vinegar, fruit and sugar, so leave that for a couple of days, strain it off, add soda water to it and you have the most delicious drink. It’s an especially good use for strawberries when they’ve just started to soften too much - great for cocktails or mocktails.’ Daniel adds.

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