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How to integrate compost onto the plate

Forward-thinking chefs are taking composting a step further, embracing nose-to-tail cooking, turning food trim into dog biscuits and upcycling scraps into soups, pasta sauces and salads.

Jehangir Mehta, chef-owner of Graffiti Earth in New York City and an avid food waste crusader, created a soup from food scraps that even has its own hashtag: #eatmycompostsoup. There’s no standard recipe for the item, which he also introduced to the dining program at University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Instead, the coconut-based soup features vegetable peels, stems and roots left over from the day’s prep and what Mehta calls “cosmetically challenged” vegetables—ingredients that previously may have found their way into the compost bin.

“Using vegetable scraps and ugly produce in a plant-based soup recipe reduces food costs from 28% to 12%,” he says. Graffiti Earth also upcycles used espresso grounds from neighboring Birch Coffee to flavor its ice cream.

Scraps also figure into the menu at Ray’s & Stark Bar, the restaurant in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). But it took some staff education on the part of executive chef Fernando Darin to make it happen. “We had to train cooks to be aware of saving usable food waste, so we placed two bins in the walk-in,” he says. “One is for collecting trim from produce, such as celery leaves, carrot peels, etc., and the other is for protein trim.”

Darin upcycles some of the trim into staff meals and incorporates protein scraps into his dog-friendly Barky Brunch menu served on the patio. There’s also a separate bin for compost, which fertilizes LACMA’s on-site garden. While Darin can’t put an actual number on food-cost savings, he does see a reduction in energy costs, which also contributes to reducing the carbon footprint.

Photo courtesy of Graffiti Earth

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