LexChef: Trashed

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At Lexington Catering's Trashed event in London, chefs were challenged to source sustainably, leaving as little waste as possible

On 29 November, Lexington Catering held the final round of their annual chef competition at a corporate venue in the City. The catering company, which is part of the Elior Group, hosted clients, suppliers and business leaders at the event designed to celebrate the talent of their top chefs.

Each year, the competition is based on different criteria. Rob Kirby, Lexington’s chef director, picked up on a pressing issue for the foodservice industry when he introduced the theme – ‘Trashed’. Chefs were challenged to source sustainably, and to use ingredients in a responsible way to leave as little waste as possible.

Refreshingly, the competition proved that what might seem a restrictive theme brought out creative cooking and innovative ideas. Three courses, including a starter that had to be vegetarian, were executed to an incredibly high standard by all eight of the finalists.

Presentation and quality

Mark Flanagan, head chef at Buckingham Palace, was one of the judges. “The brief this year was incredible,” he acknowledged, “but the presentation and quality from the finalists was really something special. It wasn’t just restaurant quality, it was top restaurant quality.”

That quality came from a huge amount of preparation. This year’s winner was Jack Shaw, a head chef with Lexington. His braised broccoli stalk with pickled walnut ketchup, pressed cod’s head with roe (pictured), and French pastry with coffee and pear mille feuille impressed not only the judges, but also Shaw’s own customers. Having included his dishes on his menu before the contest, he honed his technique down to perfection.

Although the dishes were hugely popular at his work, as with the judges, Shaw commented that the contest was a challenge. It was important to him that he maintain the standards of presentation and style that he’s used to – as he said, “sourcing something that fitted the brief but had punchy flavours was a real problem.”

It’s a difficult brief, but one that is increasingly moving into our consciousness in the foodservice industry. Kirby made the point that “as chefs we have a responsibility to help beat food waste – I wanted [the finalists] to think about the cuts, the ugly veggies, and total nose to tail.”

The food served for guests at the event were equally creative, and also came within the brief for the evening’s theme. Dan Rampat, development chef at Lexington and the chef taking charge of the night’s food, explained how he planned the event. Taco shells were replaced by crisped chicken skin, and in a vegetarian version by broccoli leaf: he used rescued billy goat barbacoa, coriander stalks, blue cheese rind and other ingredients that usually – and unnecessarily – get thrown out. He also sourced fish skins for one dish by going through the bins of Lexington’s regular fish suppliers, but we are pleased to note that that isn’t the only way you can cook sustainably.

Sustainability meets creativity

‘Nose-to-tail’ cooking references meat preparation, and is most clearly laid out in Fergus Henderson’s book The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating. As a principle though, the Lexington contest demonstrated that no edible ingredient need to be wasted whether meat or vegetable.

For restaurants, the ramifications of this might ripple right down the supply chain: cutting waste, as well as boosting sustainability credentials, cuts costs too.

Speaking to Foodservice Consultant at the event, Mark Flanagan pointed out that this trend isn’t in isolation – as he said, “there’s a big move toward sustainability in the foodservice industry”. Corporations and consumers alike are starting to require it. It’s just as well that events like this prove that sustainability doesn’t come at the cost of creativity.

Congratulations to Jack Shaw for a well deserved win, and to the Lexington team for a successful event that picked up on one of the foodservice industry’s most pressing issues.

Frances Ball


Pictures: Jodi Hinds