Thanks to Hannah Goldfield for this post:
The other night, as I ate a salad at Blue Hill, in the West Village, a server approached my table with an iPad. “Have you seen this?” she asked. “Chef wanted you to see this.” By “Chef,” she meant Dan Barber, the man behind Blue Hill and Blue Hill Stone Barns, a sister restaurant and farm upstate. By “this,” she meant a photograph of a dumpster, into which a chute was depositing an enormous quantity of multi-colored scraps of fruit and vegetables—the runoff from a commercial food processor. The experience felt something similar to being shown a picture of what would happen to a sad-eyed old horse if you didn’t save it from the glue factory. Sitting in a small, enamel casserole dish in front of me were fruit and vegetable scraps that Barber had rescued, just like the ones in the photo. Arranged in an artful tangle, bits of carrot, apple, and pear were dressed with a creamy green emulsion, studded with pistachios, and garnished with a foamy pouf that turned out to be the liquid from canned chickpeas, whipped into haute cuisine.
A parsnip head in a shallow dish of water, its tall greens splayed elegantly, served as a strangely beautiful centerpiece for the table. Beside it, a candle flickered in a small glass pitcher, labelled with a piece of masking tape on which someone had written “beef”: instead of wax, the melted liquid was beef tallow, or rendered fat, to be poured onto a plate just as several slices of a dark, musky bread, made with grain left over from beer-brewing, arrived to dip in it.
This was the opening night of Barber’s first-ever pop-up, which will close out its two-week run on Tuesday. Until then, Blue Hill’s understatedly elegant dining room will remain nearly unrecognizable, dressed up—or down, really—as a new restaurant called wastED. Formless Finder, an architecture firm that specializes in recycled materials, has covered the walls in an industrial-looking fabric known as “row cover,” which is used on farms to protect crops from cold, wind, and pests. The normal tabletops have been replaced by slabs of mycelium, the all-natural and biodegradable plastics substitute that Ian Frazier wrote about for this magazine in 2013. On that first evening, even the playlist was reused: over the course of the meal, I heard Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” three times.
Most importantly, each of the dishes on the menu—priced at fifteen dollars, regardless of size or ingredients—is made from edible things that most people would consider trash, and much of which would have been otherwise thrown away: broken razor clams, beet roots, cheese whey. “The amazing thing about this project,” Barber told me a few days later, standing in the kitchen as the first orders of the night were being prepared and plated, “is that everything on this menu is done in restaurants. These aren’t new ideas. This is the seventeen-dollar ravioli from yesterday’s greens or braised meat, mixed with cheese.” Using whatever happens to be lying around, Barber said, is something that chefs do all the time, including the big names—Grant Achatz, Dominique Ansel, April Bloomfield—that he’d invited to devise nightly specials.
The difference with wastED is that the menu tells the truth in the plainest terms. “Cured cuts of waste-fed pig” are served with “reject carrot mustard, off-grade sweet potatoes, melba toast from yesterday’s oatmeal.” “Dry-aged beef ends broth” features “malt rootlets, mystery vegetables and peels” and “cow corn crackers.” A glossary elaborates when necessary: off-grade, it explains, means “below a commercially recognized standard of quality.” (“Farmers, processors and retailers,” it went on, “often discard produce if it does not meet certain aesthetic specifications.”) Dry-aged beef ends are “the hard exterior layers of dry-aged beef.”
If part of the allure of eating at restaurants is the magic of something that looks and tastes delicious appearing, as if effortlessly, in front of you, what happens when you’re forced to see how the sausage is made? That answer depends on the diner, of course. I was perhaps unusually primed to enjoy wastED, because my father, whose mother grew up in Depression-era Brooklyn, is the type of person who eats apple cores and thinks that expiration dates are Big Food conspiracies. He shops in the section of his local grocery store where overripe produce is sold at a discount and tagged with stickers reading, “Not the Best, But Still a Good Buy.” If a brick of cheese grows moldy, he scrapes off the mold. If milk has undeniably soured, why not use it in pancake batter? Anything truly unusable goes into the compost, to be reincarnated as summer sunflowers in the backyard. Over the course of my life, I have tried to shed some of this thinly-veiled neuroticism, but I still wince every time I toss a handful of kale stems in the trash rather than pickling them or keeping them in the freezer for future stock-making…
Read the whole post here.