Reducing Food Waste is the Next Big Thing for Inspired Chefs and Food Organizations
Last year, the James Beard Foundation (JBF) announced its multi-year Waste Not initiative, which encourages chefs and home cooks alike to adopt more full-use cooking methods.
“Around the world, we waste more than 40 percent of the food we produce,” says Katherine Miller, vice president of Impact for JBF. “This means we also waste the precious resources—such as water and countless human hours—needed to grow, package, and prepare our food. It’s a big problem, but it is also relatively easy to fix.”
According to Miller, food waste is costing the restaurant industry hundreds of billions of dollars annually, and is also a major contributor to climate change. A 2018 global study by the American Hotel & Lodging Association also found that reducing food waste can help ensure restaurant profitability: for every $1 an operator invests to reduce kitchen waste, on average the business saves $7 in operating costs.
By speeding up their own food waste reduction efforts, the James Beard Foundation hopes to provide chefs and consumers with the resources they need to actively address food waste on a daily basis. The Foundation is moving all of its operations to zero waste events and service, including dinners at the historic James Beard House in New York.
“Restaurants should start by better understanding their food waste,” Miller says. “It’s as easy as measuring the number of food scraps each week. Then, they can set a goal to reduce that amount by 40 percent. Assessing inventory, looking at portion size, and examining whether you’re fully utilizing every part of a product can help.”
Prosciutto, for example, is used in a variety of places on a menu—in sauces, as a garnish, and in whole dishes, like pastas and pizzas. By planning for various uses of prosciutto, chefs can ensure that every bit is used.
Food organizations such as the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma are doing their part in reducing food waste, too. The organization recently launched an educational initiative and digital training hub for chefs wanting to know more about fully utilizing the prized ham. Its campaign, The Whole Leg, provides extensive insights and resources for menu development, including videos that showcase breaking down the leg, and recipes that incorporate everything from the bone and the fat—which can both be used to intensify the flavor of broths, sauces, or stews—to the bottom and the skin—which can be incorporated into dishes ranging from meatballs to risotto.
At Miami’s Macchialina restaurant, Chef Mike Pirolo has embraced the push to get more out of each product in his kitchen, starting with Prosciutto di Parma.
“I grew up in an Italian family, and there’s no such thing as waste,” he says. “For restaurants, reducing waste ultimately helps to make the business more profitable. But also, chefs are pretty competitive. We like to show our customers how we’re thinking outside the box and getting creative with food parts that no one ever thought to use.”
Once a month at Macchialina, Chef Mike and his team take the scraps left over from the restaurant’s charcuterie program—the nub ends of the salami and Prosciutto di Parma that are too short to shave or slice—and grind them together to make Bolognese sauce. The signature pappardelle dish that results has become wildly popular with customers.
“We’re taking something that most chefs usually throw away or just chop up and put in a stock,” he says. “And it’s actually developed a cult following. People go crazy for it, and when you’re creating something like that, as a chef, that’s really special.”
The Macchialina menu has featured Prosciutto di Parma in a number of other unique, underutilized ways, with a Creamy Polenta with Prosciutto and Mushroom Ragu, and as an add-on to their Local Burrata dish with heirloom tomatoes and arugula.
Similar to TheWholeLeg.com, the Waste Not initiative has created a free online curriculum for chefs on how to develop a full-use kitchen, as well as launching a cookbook with more than 100 recipes and insights for using every stem, leaf, root, and rind possible to create delicious meals.
“At the James Beard Foundation, we know from our own experience that reducing food waste can be complicated,” Miller says. “But we also recognize that the effort to do so will positively impact our business, people in our community, and the health of the planet—so it’s something we all must do.”
Learn how to reduce waste and maximize value with Prosciutto di Parma.