When your server delivers your bread at Blue Hill’s WastED pop-up (75 Washington Place, 212-539-1776), running from now until the end of the month, she’ll mention that it’s made from spent grain as she unfolds it from a scrap of burlap, and then she’ll plunk down a little dish of rosemary and salt, and tip the wax from your candle into it. That candle, she explains, is made from beef tallow, and it’s what you should dip your bread into.
Dinner holds many delightful moments like this: See the dumpster-dive vegetable salad, made with damaged storage apples and pears and sided with chickpea water whipped into a stiff foam. It might be the freshest late-winter salad you’ll taste all year. Or the unappealingly named “Dog Food,” a meat loaf made from dairy cow, which is normally processed into, well, dog food. Here, it’s so tender and nicely matched to fluffy grated potatoes, you’ll wonder why humans don’t deign to eat these animals. And then there’s a vegetarian cheeseburger made from the pulp waste of pressed juice. It tastes so meaty, we asked three times, “Wait, is there really no meat at all in this? No drippings on the grill? A little lard to hold it all together?” No, swore our server, and then the back waiter, and then the manager. It is, hands down, the best veggie burger we’ve ever had.
Remarkably, all of these wonderful bites are made from what would, in other kitchens, be trash: That is the point of WastED, where Blue Hill co-owners Dan, David, and Laureen Barber have recruited some of the country’s best chefs to bring attention to the food waste found throughout the supply chain.
The team created a menu around the waste that accumulates in home and restaurant kitchens (things like vegetable and fruit peels and pulp, offal, and coffee grounds) as well as throughout the entire supply chain — in the fields, processing points, and the marketplace. Chef Dan and his team have been working with local farmers, fishermen, distributors, processors, plant breeders, butchers, artisanal producers, mills, and retailers, to explore byproducts as a new set of ingredients. “The interest I have in this is, can we take things we normally deem inedible and make them delicious?” he says.
Barber wants to highlight the ways chefs celebrate often-ignored ingredients to create something appealing. To help out, he’s recruited some of the country’s best culinary minds, including Grant Achatz, Mario Batali, April Bloomfield, Danny Bowien, Sean Brock, Andrew Carmellini, Dominique Crenn, Alain Ducasse, Daniel Humm, Dan Kluger, Enrique Olvera, Alex Raij, Mads Refslund, Nancy Silverton, and Bill Telepan; and pastry chefs Dominique Ansel, Claudia Fleming, Brooks Headley, and Bill Yosses. Bartenders Jim Meehan, Dale DeGroff, and Audrey Saunders have been tasked with designing cocktails for the concept. Wines and beers are thoughtfully curated to match the theme; for example, there’s an Evil Twin/Buxton collaboration small beer — a brew made from the second runnings of a strong beer. And Sebastian Beckwith of In Pursuit of Tea has co-curated a “waste tea” menu. (Incidentally, there’s no coffee on the menu, at least not really — you can finish your meal with a cup of cascara, an infusion of coffee cherry husks from a farm in El Salvador.)
There is a set menu for the duration of the pop-up; however, the guest chefs will be adding their own specials for the nights they are involved. “The inspiration for it is really the idea that chefs, in general, create delicious dishes from things people normally wouldn’t eat,” says Dan. “We call it ravioli and charge $17 for it; we don’t call it waste.” The night we dined, Dominique Ansel had a dessert on the board — a panna cotta made with spent sake rice.
The process of bringing WastED together was not easy. The team started with farmers and purveyors and worked their way out. Individual suppliers have gone to great lengths to siphon off products for Barber and his team to use. Undesired products like skate cartilage, offal, and that aforementioned meat from old dairy cows, none of which are in demand by consumers, have made their way onto the menu. When he first started going down the path of creating the pop-up, Dan wasn’t expecting suppliers to be so cooperative; he quickly found out that most are just as disgusted with the waste, but due to lack of consumer demand, are forced to discard tons of edible material. “Speaking with suppliers has been extremely positive,” he says. “They all said the same thing: ‘I’m so glad you’re doing this, because I have an outlet for this.’ In many ways, it shines a light on their wastefulness.”
Barber hopes that in shining a light on what cooks do — utilizing every last bit of food — WastED will illustrate the ways we can change the cooking process to feed a growing population and ultimately reduce excess waste. “That’s the history of great cooking,” says Dan. “WastED is about advertising what we do and wearing it on our sleeves instead of continuing to hide it.”
That it plays out deliciously for the consumer is a bonus. You can make a reservation, but you can also walk in — a good portion of the dining room is no-reservation, and after 9 p.m., the restaurant becomes walk-in-only. Judging by our Saturday-night meal, many diners are afraid they’re not going to get a table — which means 9 is actually a prime time to hit the joint and sit down immediately.
Every dish on the list is $15, and your server will tell you that they recommend about four dishes per person. That means you can get in and out — drinks included — for about $75 to $100 per person.
Seriously, now, do not miss this — you owe it to yourself to get to Blue Hill before the end of the month and taste this frontier of cooking.