3 Simple Ways to Be a Less Wasteful Cook at Home

Cooking sustainably is easier than you think.

Scottish Cuisine Chef Dean Banks

Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh

For restaurants and chefs wishing to tackle the issue of climate change, food waste, which is responsible for 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, as a result of one-third of all food produced being wasted, is proving to be a great place to make progress. 

In Scotland, one of the chefs pioneering sustainability-minded cooking and food sourcing is Dean Banks, a former finalist on BBC One’s “MasterChef: The Professionals,” and a restaurateur who has implemented low-waste practices at all three of his restaurants, including The Pompadour at Edinburgh’s Waldorf Astoria – The Caledonian hotel. Banks has made it his mission to not only optimize the way his restaurants operate, putting sustainability at the forefront, but to educate home cooks on the benefits of wasting less food as well through his cooking and messaging.

“Wasting less food is massively beneficial for the environment,” says Banks. “Less waste going into landfill means less CO2 and methane going into the atmosphere. At my restaurants, being low-waste and sustainable means that we have found multiple uses for all of our byproducts in the kitchen before they go into the bin. So, basically, anything we prepare from scratch, whether it be whole vegetables, whole cuts of meat, whole animals, whole shellfish and seafood especially, we look at using all parts of the animal or vegetable in our cooking.” 

The positive environmental impact of wasting less food speaks for itself, but many home cooks and chefs often neglect to realize the potential financial benefits that these practices offer as well — a feat that’s even more significant in 2022 as inflation soars. “If you are wasting 20% less, then you are spending 20% less in many ways,” explains Banks. “If, out of everything you put in your fridge or cupboards at home, 20% of that is going in the garbage, that’s costing you $20 of every $100 that you spend. If you can find ways to reuse ingredients and waste as little as possible, then those savings go right into your pocket. Now, rather than spending $100 per week on food, you are only spending $80 per week.”

It’s actually the financial benefits of wasting less and sourcing quality ingredients from local producers that made Banks realize how important sustainability-minded cooking can be for a restaurant. “My ‘aha!’ moment was when I opened my first restaurant, Haar in St. Andrews,” says Banks. “I realized the overhead costs are absolutely massive, and our bottom lines are so small. I had to look at ways of cutting costs, but also I was going out of my way in sourcing produce which was very time-consuming. I fell in love with the products we sourced, and valued the relationships I had with the growers and fishermen, and seeing any of their products going in the bin just broke my heart.”

From that point, Banks made it a goal to teach himself new methods and styles of cooking to avoid being wasteful, not only for the financial and environmental benefits, but also out of respect for the local producers he worked with.

The Sustainable Scallop Dish

A great dish that exemplifies how Banks and his team use preservation methods to reduce food waste is the hand-dived scallop with Scots dashi and kimchi, featured on The Pompadour’s tasting menu.

“Starting off with the kimchi, we use a byproduct of our cooking to make the dressing, or paste, for the kimchi. We blend any vegetable trim with seasonings, ginger trim and lemongrass trim to season, to make a paste. We then add in some gochujang, some chili and basically it is like a kimchi dressing and we use that to ferment seasonal vegetables from our farm,” he explains.

The second component of the dish is the scallop. “We don’t just use the meat, we use all of its edible parts. We start by seasoning the scallop with the roe, which we dry and smoke before grating it onto the scallop. We then fry the scallop in the butter we have made from its skirt (aka the mantle). To finish the dish, we use pork skin — a massive by-product of the industry. We buy the pork skin, dehydrate it, blend it up, fry it and it becomes pork popcorn — we put that on top. 

The final component of the dish is the dashi, a traditional Japanese stock typically made with kombu and bonito flakes. Instead of using kombu from Japan, Banks and his team source kombu seaweed from the East Neuk of Fife in Scotland. Instead of the bonito flakes, they use the muscle part of the scallop, the long part that attached the scallop to the shell that’s often discarded, to season the dashi. 

The idea of whole utilization is what this dish is all about. It’s very elegant and beautiful, but the guest would never know or guess that we have used by-products to create it. Each scallop costs us a certain amount (that isn’t cheap), so we want to make sure that we get the most out of every single one by creating flavorful ingredients with all of its parts. Not to mention these scallops are hand-dived by people who go scuba diving here in the west coast of Scotland in freezing and dangerous waters, so we don’t want to waste anything out of respect for them as well. When you delve into using all of the parts of an animal or product, there’s more of a story to it than just ‘here is your scallop meat we have prepared, and we don’t really care what happened to the rest of it’. 

How to Cook More Sustainably 

To emulate Banks’ approach to being a less wasteful cook, here are three simple practices to integrate at home.

Eat Seasonally and Locally

Go to your local farmer’s market, butchers, and fishmongers, and they’ll tell you what’s in season. It’s often more affordable to do so, and by shopping from local and independent businesses, you build valuable relationships that can help you become a more mindful eater. Everyone has access to Google these days, so look up what is seasonal in your region and source what’s fresh and available. 

Save Your Vegetable Trimmings and Preserve Them

Banks often makes a home pickle brine — there are plenty of recipes and methods to try. Start by making a simple brine, and keep it in your fridge. As soon as you have some extra trim from vegetables that you’ve prepared for a meal, pop it in your pickle brine and preserve it. 

If you’re a bit more savvy, another method to preserve those trims is through fermentation. For example, if you have some vegetables in your fridge that are past their prime, add 2% salt to the weight of the vegetables in an airtight container, and let them lacto-ferment (making kimchi is one great example). 

At the restaurants [i.e The Pompadour at Waldorf Astoria The Caledonian, Haar, and Dulse], Banks uses local vegetables from our organic biodiverse farm, and gives them a longer shelf life by turning them into kimchis and other simple ferments. It may sound daunting at first, but it’s easy to do at home. At the bare minimum, if pickling and fermenting seems too much at first, you can create a simple vegetable stock by boiling them in water for several hours and saving the liquid for soups and other dishes. The best part is that you can freeze the stock too, and use it whenever you’re ready to use it. 

Reduce Wastage by Learning How to Store Your Produce Properly

The majority of home cooks don’t know how to store food correctly, but it’s important to understand what should live in the fridge, versus what should live in a basket in a cool dry place. A lot of vegetables love dark cupboards and they don’t need to go in your fridge, so be sure to evaluate each item individually. The fridge is a dry place, and not all vegetables like that. By knowing which foods go in the fridge, and which ingredients can be stored in cool, dry spaces, you’ll reduce electricity costs by saving the energy that’s needed to store those items.

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