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WastED started as a series of dinners at Barber’s Blue Hill restaurant in New York City and the idea was simple: Invite guest chefs, producers, purveyors and researchers to join forces and create dishes that challenge diners to consider food waste in different ways.
“We want to go beyond the ugly fruit and vegetables, the skin, the expired dairy - that’s all important but it is dwarfed in comparison to the big issues,” says Barber. “For example, England grows a lot of wheat and most of that wheat goes into feeding animals instead of feeding humans - we’re going to shine a light on that.”
Barber likes to use dishes to spark debate, to present ‘waste’ in unique and delicious ways, but he says this is nothing new. He actually had the idea while researching for his book, The Third Plate, and admits that it comes straight from the recipes of history.
“Many cultures did capturing waste in really brilliant ways without ever calling it waste. In Japan, for example, one of the great crop rotators for getting a successful rice harvest is to plant buckwheat. So, the question is, what do you do with the buckwheat? In America when you plant buckwheat you add it to dog food… there’s really no market here, but in Japan it was such an important crop that you didn’t have the opportunity to throw it in dog food. Instead you created soba noodles, you created this iconic Japanese dish that is delicious.
“One way to look at that is, in order to eat your bowl of white rice you have to eat soba. Which is a nice thing to ask someone to do, instead of the waste movement here, which is a lot about don’t waste too much food. That’s too simple and also it doesn’t last - people have other important things to do and it’s a fad. The brilliance of looking at these older cuisines is that they lasted, generation after generation, because these dishes and these cuisines were passed down over time. I think that’s the key point, you need to inculcate these ideas into the everyday culture. So, you don’t call them waste, you call them soba.”
The pop-up in London is the first time WastED has moved out of New York but the aim to educate and push a message with each dish served, remains the same. “England is a dairy producing country but what does it do with 50% of it’s births, the male calves? They don’t produce milk and a large portion of them are actually shot dead – my interest is in drawing attention to that. What if you did allow it to drink milk from its mother and graze on pasture? It’s very delicious and if you paid enough money for that veal it would offset the loss of milk for the dairy, but you have to have the culture for veal.”
WastED may have started as a dining event, but the project has slowly evolved, and Barber and the team are now consulting on other projects and are happy to offer their hand in harnessing the power of food waste in innovative ways. They recently worked with a dumpling restaurant in New York on a specially crafted vegetable off-cut dumpling.
“At the first New York event we had a juice pulp burger made out of 100 percent scraps from juice making. No one has ever asked what happens to the fibre from the machine after the juicing process - so we fashioned a hamburger out of it and it was beet red. We did it with an off-grade cheese and we made burger buns out of old hamburger buns that we repurposed. That got people thinking about their morning juice, either for people to question whether they should be having so much juice or for the juicers to say, why don’t we have a vegetable burger stand inside the juice shop?" These are the sorts of questions Barber wants people to chew down on at WastED – a place to sit down and dine on debate.
Below is the list of chefs who are so far confirmed to cook at WastED London, a fine line-up of people who Barber says are cooking with waste everyday, they're probably just not calling it that.