How the 'Waste Nothing' Ethos Defined This Chef's Trajectory
Keep calm and compost.
April 17, 2018 ● 2 min read
We're pregaming Earth Day this year, mostly because damn, it's getting pretty bleak out there and it's more important than ever to stick to your soil guns and fight for our planet. We asked a handful of industry pros what sustainability meant to them: we'll be publishing their answers throughout the week.
As told by Keith Garman | Image beastfromeast via iStock
Sustainability is a multi-faceted element in our current food system.
This is truly an exciting time to be alive—and to be a chef. Chefs have more opportunity than ever to be catalysts for positive impact on our food system, while simultaneously strengthening our communities.
As a teenager growing up in Western Pennsylvania, I spent my summers washing dishes and doing prep work at a local kitchen (foil wrapping baked potatoes, stocking salad bars, etc). The chef had a family farm, and we composted everything at the restaurant—scraps, old veggies, bones and meat scraps for the pigs. We'd spend mornings bringing back the collection of five-gallon buckets to the farm, feeding the pigs, and spreading the carbon-based compost and baling hay. It was my first taste of doing sustainable work without even realizing it. The frugality and "waste nothing" ethos stuck with me.
At Alden & Harlow, we utilize as much as physically and logistically possible from our fantastic New England farmers. One of our favorite partners from day one is Arthur “Tad” Largey. He owns and operates a small chicken farm, Featherbrook Farms, literally out of his backyard. One day back in 2016, I asked him if I could come visit the farm, to see how the operation functioned. I went on slaughter day, when he processes around 200 chickens for Boston’s top restaurants with the same waste nothing approach and respect for the animals: blood, guts, and feathers all composted, feet and necks sold separately, livers sold at a premium. I ended up working there for six months on top of managing Alden’s kitchen. It was an experience I will never forget, and the foundation for a lasting friendship.
We source responsibly, utilize everything. Kale stems, pea and fava shells, chicken skins, bones, fish carcasses. Nothing goes to waste. We work with Bootstrap Compost to push the envelop even further. We teach our young cooks to respect the once-living products as valuable, and not expendable, while they create creative and delicious plates. Hopefully, we educate and inspire our guests in some small way, too.
Sustainability goes beyond “farm to table.” It applies to our staffs as well. Creating a sustainable working environment for our cooks is one of the most important things you can do. That they feel they are part of a team, that no one is more or less important than the other. That they are treated with respect and dignity in all aspects and compensated a deserving wage. When you have this ecosystem there is no goal that cannot be accomplished.