By Matthew Barclay, Executive Chef
It’s a dilemma all restaurants face: how to portion a plate so food is not wasted.
Skimp on servings and diners might feel shortchanged. Over serve and food goes uneaten and destined for the landfill, joining the 52 million tons of edible food that Americans discard annually.
Being efficient with our food is fundamental for any restaurant’s bottom line, but it’s also in our nature to not waste food. I’ve been in the restaurant business for 30+ years, and it’s exciting to see this conversation become more mainstream. We’re all paying more attention to what we throw away, whether it’s the food we eat or the packaging around it.
Most discarded restaurant food comes from kitchen scraps and plate waste.
We try to reduce both by properly portioning plates and preparing recipes that cross utilize a single food. For example, an asparagus spear can be utilized in three recipes: the top for grilling and presentation; the middle third in pasta dishes; and the woody, inedible bottom third goes into making a vegetable stock.
With the exception of eggshells and fruit and vegetable stems, most everything that comes into our kitchen makes it to the plate in some form or fashion.
We recently broke down an eight and one-quarter pound tenderloin, which is the source for filet mignon, one of our more popular entrees. The only portion not used in a recipe came to three ounces of silver skin, a connective tissue.
- The tenderloin yielded eight filets, a near volleyball-size mound of trimmed meat tips and a similar-size portion of intramuscular fat, and the silver skin, which fit in the palm of my hand.
- We’ll serve the fillets as main entrees.
- We’ll use the trimmed meat tips in beef rigatoni, ground it for hamburgers or mince it for ravioli filling.
- And the intramuscular fat will go into stocks and be rendered into a butter substitute for sauces such as hollandaise and béarnaise, and for deep fat poaching.
So this single food source contributes to seven different dishes, meaning we use about 98% the eight-pound plus tenderloin.
Plate waste is a tougher nut to crack, but it starts by training wait and kitchen staff to pay attention to what’s eaten and what’s wasted, and adjust accordingly. We want you to leave full, but everybody eats a different amount. When plates come back to the kitchen, I’m looking for a pattern, such as uneaten sauce.
Other than potion control, what’s the solution for plate waste? Some restaurants and college campuses are reviving the age-old practice of feeding food scraps to animals. It’s not as simple as it sounds, but it basically works like this: kitchen scraps and plate waste are collected, treated and processed into an oat-like consistency, then fed to livestock.
The challenge is in the processing, and there’s no facility in our area that offers this service. It’s our hope at Bordinos that some area entrepreneur will take up this challenge.