World-renowned chefs take turns turning discarded foods into delicacies at this funky foodie destination.
Until the second of April, Londoners will be able to experience food scraps turned into haute cuisine at an intriguing pop-up restaurant on the rooftop at Selfridge’s. The project, called WastED, is the brainchild of American chef Dan Barber. It is the second time he’s hosted such an event; the first was at Blue Hill restaurant in Manhattan in March 2015, and it met with such success that Barber decided to take WastED across the Atlantic this time.
With the help of many guest chefs, including big names like Yotam Ottolenghi, Alain Ducasse, Gordon Ramsay, and Pierre Koffman, WastED is serving lunch, tea, and dinner, although guests do not know who’s cooking until the day of. All dishes use ingredients that would otherwise go to waste. The goal is to “reimagine by-products at every link in the food chain,” coming up with innovative ways to serve and consume under-appreciated foods.
CityLab describes some of the culinary concoctions to date, ever since WastED launched on February 24:
“Barber and his team collected fresh vegetable pulp from local juice bars, for example, to create a kind of meatless, char-grilled burger with a reddish, beet-filled heart that gives the impression of rareness. The kitchen is also extracting juice from sugar beets (a common crop in Britain) and turning the remains into Swiss-style röstis brushed with fat extracted from the discarded caviar sacs that hold sturgeon eggs. Instead of coffee, the restaurant is serving light but deliciously floral cascara, an infusion made from coffee bean husks.”
Other offerings include kale trees, which are the ribs left standing in fields after the leaves are harvested; pork braised in leftover fruit solids and yeasts from cider fermentation; and the cores of spiralized vegetables, collected from nearby Tesco supermarkets and served with a cream sauce made of aquafaba (liquid from canned chickpeas) and charred cucumber skin oil. Alas, while the intent may be noble, the end result is lacking for one Telegraph reviewer:
“The dressing’s ingenious but no amount of pickling, brining and roasting can transform these flabby cylinders into heirloom vegetables (which may be the point).”
Even the restaurant setting uses as many upcycled items as possible, with repurposed fabrics as aprons and shirts for cooks and servers, tables made from crushed fabric remnants, and chairs made of bio-resin and artichoke thistle.
Barber is an outspoken critic of the current food production system and a strong believer in the power of cooking to counteract rampant food waste; but he also insists on the need for people to think about their overall diets in terms of waste, primarily by reducing meat consumption and prioritizing vegetables and grains. He told CityLab:
“A center-cut steak—or just any seven-ounce piece of protein—that's the westernized expectation for a plate of food, but no one says it's wasteful. In America, we have 120 million acres of corn and soy, but 80 percent of that goes to feed animals. That level of waste buries our problem with so-called ugly fruit.”
He says the British approach to wasted food is more “evolved” than America’s, since its iconic foods – haggis, shepherd’s pie, bubble and squeak, etc. – already feature a variety of waste products.
WastED, whose capitalized ED stands for “education,” is meant to be an exercise is awareness-building. It’s an admirable concept, and one that I would love to support in person, but, as is always the case with these aspirational temporary projects, unless it translates into real lifestyle changes, it does little more than to entertain curious futurist foodies.
I would hope that the chefs participating in WastED return to their own restaurants, eager to incorporate similar waste-reduction strategies into their kitchens, and that diners start using those same methods at home.
It’s very challenging to do this, though. I think of myself at the grocery store, where I’m faced with a pyramid of, say, apples or pears. My instinct is to check each one individually for bruises, putting rough-looking ones back in the pile and opting for blemish-free ones, because I’m not inclined to pay the same price for damaged produce if perfect ones are available at the same price. I fight this urge, and usually throw a few ugly ones in the mix on principle, but it’s hard! I prefer my CSA share, where I’m not given the choice.
WastED will be running for another month, so if you’re London, check it out. All dinner reservations are full, but lunch and tea are still open.