Irish Chefs tackle food waste!

May 2019

On Tuesday May 14th, The Chef Network held a Zero Food Waste training workshop for Chefs with Conor Spacey and Mark Jenkins of FoodSpace. This afternoon workshop was held in Musgrave Marketplace in Cork. Chefs travelled from as far as Killarney to attend. Some attendees were between shifts while others were keen to spend their day off learning more about food waste. There’s definitely some momentum building and Chefs are well placed to lead when it comes to making the most of food and minimising waste.

Participants were invited to smell, touch and taste a variety of preserved and fermented foodstuffs including pineapple vinegar, primrose kombucha, crips made with sweet potato and beetroot peels, banana skin chutney and a salad dressing made with the off-cuts of peppers which had been lightly steamed and blended to make a delicious vinaigrette. Participants each made their own jar of kimchi (a perfect way to use up cauliflower stems and leaves) to take away.

Chefs Mark Jenkins and Conor Spacey explained how they had shifted their kitchen practices to look at many foods typically considered waste or off-cuts in a new light. Mark explained how useful a dehyrator can be to dry herbs to blend with salt for delicious flavouring. The same can be done with onion skins. Little actions such as regrowing celery and planting it into the ground is a way of preventing waste and prolonging the use of ingredients. The flowers put on tables can be used twice, once as a pretty centrepiece and later used to flavour kombucha. Try this out with thistles, primroses, rosemary and other edible plants.

Conor discussed managing relationships with Environmental Health Officers who often don’t know much about fermenting and preserving foods but many of whom are interested to know more. Taking frequent and regular Ph samples is a good way of maintaining high food safety standards. Mark highlighted that it’s not enough to chuck trimmings into a stock pot because there are so many other ways of maximising the use of many different foods. He argued that over time, this kind of mindset will increase profit margins and decrease expenditure on supplies.

Working with suppliers is another avenue for change. Conor and Mark encouraged Chefs to ask suppliers to minimise or eliminate packaging where possible. Buying from local producers and suppliers reduces the supply chain and can mean that change can take place more easily. Mark and Conor find out what will be available in coming weeks to source what’s in season. They offer to purchase ingredients that are surplus for suppliers knowing that they can preserve them easily and reduce costs. The Return on Investment of a dehydrator is quickly made when you’re making your own sun-dried tomatoes, banana chips and dried herbs.

Chefs were in agreement that increasingly, there is public demand for environmental sustainability to be demonstrated by food service. This extends to the segregation of waste, promotion of reusable containers, provision of compostable packaging and an overarching ethos of sustainability in all aspects of business.

The main take home message from the workshop was that there is no easy route to ‘Zero Waste’. It’s best to make a start, choose one thing to tackle and introduce small changes to reduce one at a time. If your food business is located in the regions of East Cork, Clonakilty or Ballyhoura and you want to prevent and reduce waste, email to avail of free supports under the Savour Food programme.

Chefs are encouraged to sign up to The Chef Network in order to avail of further training and supports. It’s free!

Read more about FoodSpace here.

Above: Keelin from the Savour Food Team with her jar of kimchi