There’s a peculiar fad that’s taking over some of the word’s best kitchens. A new wave of chefs are beginning to proudly and bravely propose menus according to the philosophy that can be described (depending on the ingredient) as stem-to-root, nose-to-tail, or even fin-to-tail. “Throw nothing away” is the resounding message.
But even this motto is a bit reductive. Not only must we not throw away, we are encouraged to experiment, taking advantage of every part of an ingredient – artichoke leaves, potato skins, watermelon rinds – to create recipes that look and taste wonderful.
Some chefs, like Andrea Reusing from Lantern of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, has invented original recipes with leaves that aren’t normally used in cooking and his ideas have been widely copied, like toasted watermelon seeds to flavour panna cotta, or an infusion of leaves to flavour wine. In Hudson Valley, New York, chef Laura Pensiero has turned her restaurant, Gigi Trattoria, into a veritable stem-to-root manifesto, whose menu changes continually depending on the seasonal produce.
In Milan, the restaurant Erba Brusca has worked with the American-born and raised chef Alice Delcourt whose work ethic involves a no-waste policy: she uses all parts of meat, fish, fowl and vegetables, and day-old bread becomes a base for the next day’s soups and stews. The water leftover in bottles is used to water the vegetable gardens that supply the restaurant. Further south in Italy, in Vico Equense, near Naples, the chef Gennaro Esposito, in his 2 Michelin-starred restaurant Torre del Saracino, uses dried fish scales to flavour the table salt.
In France – where, like in Italy, already has a long culinary tradition of using all parts of an ingredient – nose-to-tail is currently back in fashion. The Paris chef, writer and journalist Julien Fouin, who also owns two famous Marais restaurants, has dedicated his career to rediscovering “forgotten” parts of animals to use in his dishes: liver, tongue, testicles, brains, tripe and the tail, which are still considered noble parts in some cultures, but in many Western kitchens get discarded. He’s considered the “wizard of offal” and his delicacies can be tasted at his restaurant Glou, near the Picasso Museum in Paris. Try the ox tongue with herbs and vegetables, or even livers served with chocolate and coffee cream. If you’re not in the area, you can still get inspired from his cookbook Cuisines Paysannes, with 48 recipes (in French) from the farmer’s tradition.
London is home to the chef who is widely considered to be the main purveyor of “nose-to-tail eating”: Fergus Henderson the chef of Saint John restaurant, has written the manual that many cite as the bible that combines this ethos with haute-cuisine, The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating. In San Francisco, chef Chris Cosentino of the restaurant Incanto proudly carries the flag; and in Cambridge Massachusetts the restaurant Craigie On Main run by chef Tony Maws, who is faithful to the “Waste Not Want Not” credo.
In May, the Food and Agriculture Organization calculated that a third of the world’s food is thrown away. It’s doubtless that eating according to a stems-to-root and nose to tail philosophy is the credo for this new culinary wave that includes both famous chefs and everyday home cooks who are signing up for new-style cooking classes that teach how to not to let anything go to waste.