Q&A with Dan Barber of wastED London

American chef Dan Barber of New York's Blue Hill restaurants has brought his wastED concept to London

Dan Barber takes his food waste restaurant to the rooftop of Selfridges department store in his first cooking appearance in the British capital. wastED London  is working with local farmers, fishermen, suppliers and retailers to find use of  by-products at every link in the food chain. Barber has also teamed up with British and European chefs who will contribute their own waste-based dishes to the menu.
What is the story behind wastED?
I had this a-ha moment in the middle of writing my book, The Third Plate – the world’s greatest cuisines all stem from a “waste not” mentality. They evolved to make the best possible use of every ingredient, every part of the harvest. It was partly out of necessity, of course – they didn’t have the same luxury of throwing away parts of the animal or the vegetable – but it came out of culinary curiosity, too. Take coq au vin, for example, or ribollita – while we think of them as just delicious today, they were conceived to soak up certain kinds of “waste.” wastED was meant to be a celebration of that tradition.
What made you bring the concept to London?
Selfridges approached us to bring this idea to Oxford Street, and the idea took hold from there. It’s exciting — and humbling — to bring this concept to a place where the conversation around food waste is already so evolved.
What kind of dishes can London diners expect?
There are several nods to British cuisine throughout the menu: we’re doing wastED spins on everything from fish and chips (in our case, fish bones and skin with a tartar sauce made from pockmarked potatoes) to treacle tart (made with waffle scraps).
Do you see a synergy between traditionally British dishes and the use of food waste?
So many iconic British dishes come to mind: bubble and squeak, shepherd’s pie, haggis. For family meal tonight we made fish pie, a dish that traditionally used up leftover fish from the previous night (what doesn’t taste great smothered in mashed potatoes?). Even Marmite has a history of waste – someone found a way to make spent brewer’s yeast into an iconic condiment.
What made you focus on the food waste issue in the first place?
Chefs are hardwired to look for culinary opportunities in something that would otherwise be thrown away. And we do it in pursuit of flavour. If we can make that part of the waste conversation – show diners that these byproducts can be tasty ingredients in their own right – then maybe we can help change the culture.
Do you think there has been a change in the way chefs look at waste from the kitchen?
Again, most chefs do this work every day. But I think we’re starting to look beyond the confines of our own kitchens toward other byproducts of the food system. And maybe we’re wearing it on our sleeves a bit more.
What about diners – are they more open to the concept?
People are increasingly willing to experiment with new ingredients, particularly if there is a story behind them. But ultimately it comes down to: does it taste good? I can sell you on why we should be cooking with juice pulp or spent grain, but if I can’t make it delicious, it won’t make a difference.
With global warming developments and unpredictable nature of modern farming, do you think kitchens will be forced to increasingly make use of waste products?
Our industrial food system is based on this philosophy of extraction – take more, waste more. It’s allowed us to cherry-pick certain coveted ingredients – say, a pork chop – while discarding others. That’s obviously not sustainable in the long run. The challenge for the future is to create a more holistic way of farming and eating, just as traditional food cultures did for hundreds of years. Hopefully chefs can help make that transition more delicious.
Finally, how do you persuade all these big name chefs to get involved?
Happily for us, there was no persuasion needed – the support here has been amazing. For us, it’s a chance not just to celebrate other chefs’ work, but to learn from it.wastED London runs until 2 April 2017.Tina Nielsen

Photo: Gareth Davies

More Relevant

View More