Sustainable Chef Challenge
Leading Bangkok Chefs Use Rescued Ingredients to Promote Food Waste Awareness
UN Environment, in partnership with ThaiHarvestSOS, the EU-funded SWITCH-Asia Programme and the Government of Norway, invited policy makers to a Sustainable Chef Challenge in Bangkok. ThaiHarvestSOS has been established by Ozharvest, to rescue high quality surplus food and delivery it to charity.
Sustainable Chef Challenge 2016 brought together nine top Bangkok chefs who demonstrated how to use ‘rescued’ ingredients and transform them into delicious dishes. ‘Rescued’ ingredients refer to food items that still have nutritional value but are generally thrown out as waste.
For this event alone, over 15kg of protein products were donated from participating restaurant leftovers including porchetta trim, prawn heads and duck neck. Approximately 100kg of fruit and vegetables were rescued from various sponsors including Tesco Lotus grocery chain. In addition, a variety of dry goods such as broken rice, coconut cream and tinned sardines were donated by Thai Shing Ye, Riceland International and Hilltribe Organics.
The nine chefs were challenged to use as many rescued ingredients as possible to design original dishes. Their dishes were then cooked live by the chefs themselves with the assistance of policy makers from throughout the region who work on the environmental impact of natural resource use-- participants from the Sustainable Development Goals, Natural Resource Accounts and Policy Indicators for Asia workshop. As they cooked alongside the chefs, the policy makers learnt about food that is commonly wasted and how it can be saved.
Award-winning chef Ian Kittichai, author and television personality of the highly acclaimed Issaya Siamese Club prepared a dish he coined Khao Yam Bangkok: a refreshing rice salad with homemade dressing and fresh herbs. The rice used was discarded broken rice that would normally not be sold. Chef Ian highlights that the flavourful dish only uses local produce and does not require a meat component in order to be satisfying.
Chef Joke Pairojmahakij of Seven Spoons appropriated a famous American stew for the Thai context with his Creole Shrimp Gumbo with Okra on Rice. His dish highlighted that when items are slow-cooked together to create a stew, not only do the flavours fuse together, but any of the flaws of the individual base ingredients become rather inconsequential. Chef Joke featured prawn heads (which happen to be packed with flavour!) and broken rice that otherwise would not have been enjoyed!
Chef Blair Mathieson, along with Tam Chudaree Debhakam of Siwilai Café prepared three dishes: Charred Eggplant Tartar, Rice Noodle Nest and Tom Yum Curry. These dishes gave new life to bruised eggplants that a vendor such as Tesco Lotus would have trouble selling and would likely have to discard. According to Chef Blair, rice that might otherwise decompose in a landfill can be puffed to add a crunchy texture to an everyday dish. Tam points out that pickling items such as rescued onions and chilies with citrus juice can offer dishes a bright zing.
Chef Daniel Bucher of the Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park offered two dishes: Salmon Carpaccio and Salmon Head Broth. Both of his dishes focus on the parts of a fish that are perfectly edible and nutritious but often go unused as they take a little extra effort to access (in this specific case, completely cleaning meat off of a salmon carcass after the finest filet cuts have been taken.) This extra effort is worth it, as in his words, cooking is Chef Daniel’s way of feeling linked to the environment: “Sustainability, as a chef, is a huge topic. The reason I am cooking and do not mind being in a kitchen for eighteen hours is this connection to nature that you get through produce.”
Chef Chandler Shultz from Baa Ga Din chose to make a dish that he often uses to nourish his team at work: Jok with a Poached Egg. Not only is Jok a common staff meal at Baa Ga Din, but many in Asia regard it is a comfort food. The nature of the consistency of rice porridge means that it is the perfect home for broken rice that may otherwise end up in the bin. As Chef Chandler describes, the versatility of Jok means you can add many other rescued ingredients from your fridge and it will taste great! (In this version he rescued eggs, herbs, garlic ends, garlic oil and eggplant!)
Chef Andrew Martin from 80/20 opted to use an underappreciated form of abundantly available protein in his Duck Neck with Betel Leaf Sauce. His dish featured bug-eaten betel leaf, bruised bananas, discarded duck neck, broken hibiscus and featured a grasshopper biscuit crumb. Insects are increasing a part of the sustainable food system conversation. “I also used an inedible part of the coconut as a functional skewer in my dish because it reminds me of when I used to camp with my Dad. We would use whatever nature provided.”
Chef Jarrett Wrisley of Soul Food Mahanakorn and Peppina and Chef Paolo Vitaletti of Appia and Peppina teamed up to make three dishes: Porchetta Trim Curry, Pizza Dough Poori and Fried Eggplant with Dried Shrimp Relish. While the Porchetta trim may not have warranted being sold individually, it works wonderfully as the protein component in a curry that can also house many rescued vegetables. Poori and pizza dough may not seem like a natural combination, but as it turns out, 2-day old pizza dough that would not make for an optimal pizza crust can be fried for a perfectly puffy bread to accompany your rescued curry!
Recused food isn’t always savory as shown by Chef Amelia Stewart from Cook First. Her Nose-to-Tail Chocolate Clementine Cupcakes and Coconut Banana Rice Pudding desserts used rejected rice, bruised bananas and discarded vanilla beans and palm sugar. Her dishes remind us that fruit that is overripe can often be cooked and enjoyed—either used in baked goods or cooked into a sauce or jam. Citrus fruit rinds are also a great source of concentrated flavor.
All leftover produce from the event was donated to Mercy Centre, an orphanage and shelter for street kids and mothers and children with HIV/AIDS. Surplus prepared dishes were donated to the Good Shepherd Sisters, a charitable foundation which primarily assists young women and children in crisis.
The Sustainable Chef Challenge is part of the global Think.Eat.Save campaign, which was launched by the UN Environment, the Food and Agricultural Organization and partners in 2013 to change the culture of food waste, which results in 1.3 billion tonnes of food wasted globally each year. The total carbon footprint of food produced but not eaten is 3.3 Gigatons (Gt) of carbon dioxide equivalent.