Learning to Love Leftovers
A Lesson From Chef Bill Telepan
It’s hard enough to create a menu using different kinds of “non-waste” food at your disposal – but creating a four-course menu from leftovers is even more of a challenge. One goal of ICE’s Sustainability Club is to plan and prepare dinners using food that would otherwise be wasted. Aside from the economic benefit, we want to give students the chance to practice the creative process that goes into planning a meal using scraps.
This project made me think about my creative process, and the need to adjust last minute when creating a meal. Two examples come to mind. Recently, I helped Rick Moonen, a Las Vegas-based chef (and one of the first chefs at Oceana over 25 years ago) to prepare a lunch featuring bronzini from Spain. The importer brought not only bronzini but dorade as well, leaving us with way more than we needed. We had a hefty amount of fish that we needed to use quickly. That day after lunch service, we decided to steam the dorade and use it for dinner. We had to come up with an interesting sauce on the fly to sell the fish. I looked around the kitchen and decided on Asian flavors — something highlighting the umami flavor. We started by reducing mushroom stock to give us an intensely flavored base. Then, we mixed in garlic toasted in extra virgin olive oil and chili flakes, added some vinegar and ultimately achieved what I was going for: an interesting and flavorful sauce that would bring out the subtle flavors of the fish.
A second example happened after Thanksgiving. At Oceana, we always order our turkeys well in advance so that the farmer we work with knows how many to raise. One year we over-ordered, and I had to figure out what to do with the excess turkeys. I started by asking my butcher to debone the meat, then we froze it for a later date. A turkey burger seemed like a fun addition to our lunch and bar menu, but I didn’t want to serve just an ordinary burger with lettuce and tomato, so I had to think it through. Soon after, our sous chefs made crispy chicken sandwiches for family meal and served it with pickled veggies and a delicious chipotle, mustard aioli. That meal, which the entire staff thoroughly enjoyed, sparked inspiration for my turkey burger idea. I also wanted something to add an extra flavor punch like bacon, but I didn’t want to add bacon per se. Instead, we decided to smoke then roast thickly sliced onions. We finished it with a bit of frisée lettuce for crunch and there we had it: the Oceana turkey burger. Customers liked it so much that we started ordering more turkey!
While planning our first Zero-Waste Dinner at ICE, we began by discussing the possibilities. We asked Maria Tampakis, Director of Culinary Operations, what was leftover from meat fabrication class. After a tournée technique lesson, there were plenty of trimmings available. What could we do with them? And what about the leftover produce — what would we do with the ribs from Swiss chard? How could we use the whole lemon?
We bounced some ideas around. The first two we settled on were pretty simple: a charcuterie platter using leftover pork and a vegetable bread soup from the meat trimmings and old bread. The third idea, suggested by culinary students, was to use the trim from the fin of leftover halibut. We prepared that with some Japanese flavors and served it with leftover rice and mushroom trimmings. Maria had a fair amount of leftover lamb, so we agreed to use two techniques to prepare the lamb: sous vide and grilling. We also made an infused oil using herb stems, and a tabouleh with pickled Swiss chard leaves. For dessert, we chose a lemon meringue pie using leftover egg whites and cocoa nibs from the Chocolate Lab. And those squeezed lemons would be candied for the pie and infused for a pre-dinner aperitif.
It was the first of hopefully many successful practice sessions for our Zero-Waste Dinners. Students really got their creative juices flowing – not just for planning the perfect menu, but the perfect menu using what we had on hand.
I’m looking forward to the next meeting of ICE’s Sustainability Club.
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