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Robb White, CEC CCA AAC; Executive Chef & Food Waste Prevention Catalyst

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3 of the Biggest Waste Culprits in Your Kitchen: Part 3—Knife Skills

By Robb White, CEC CCA AAC; Executive Chef & Food Waste Prevention Catalyst  //  May 26, 2017

Great knife skills--most chefs have them. Knives are the tools of our trade and when put in the hands of skilled craftsman, it is a beautiful thing to watch. I remember watching Iron Chef years back and witnessing Iron Chef Sakai peel an apple with a chef's knife that still amazes me to this day. The years and years it took to acquire that skill is impressive. Knife skills are the fundamental building block of any chef's career. It's the first thing that is taught to students in culinary school and it takes years to become proficient with a knife.

Why are knife skills so vitally important?

  • Because people eat with their eyes first and food cut precisely has strong visual appeal.
  • Because food needs to be cut uniformly to cook evenly.
  • Because proper portioning drives cost and consistency.
  • Because safety is top priority--a cook that doesn't know how to handle a knife is a danger to the kitchen and his/her own fingers!
  • Because improperly fabricating meat, poultry, fish, or seafood can cost the restaurant  a lot of money!
  • Because food that is not prepped properly leads to preventable waste--it is like purchasing product and throwing perfectly good food in the compost bin. 

I can’t count how many times I have walked into a kitchen to see a prep cook just lop off the tops of tomatoes, zucchini, strawberries, and carrots; or haphazardly trim the rind from melons or citrus fruits, without any thought as to how to get the best yield from that product, let alone the amount of waste they are generating. This trim waste just gets thrown into the compost bin and then out the back door it goes--it’s crazy!

Most chefs assume that the cooks they hire have the necessary skills to prep and fabricate product. In many cases, this is not the truth. Cooks need to be properly trained to prep and fabricate a wide variety of produce, meats, poultry, fish, and seafood. It is essential not only for a chef to be concerned with the cost of the avoidable food waste, but also the impact this waste has on the environment as all the resources used to bring that product into the kitchen have also been wasted.

So what can a chef do to improve the knife skills of the kitchen team and reduce the amount avoidable food waste?

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3 of the Biggest Waste Culprits in Your Kitchen: Part 2—Fear of Running Out

By Robb White, CEC CCA AAC; Executive Chef & Food Waste Prevention Catalyst  //  May 9, 2017

As a chef I have had actual nightmares about running out of food. The kind of nightmares that wake you up in a sweat, with your heart beating out of your chest. The panic, the fear, the thought of facing angry customers because you are out of a menu favorite. Yep, the fear is real for chefs. With the relatively new voice of the consumer via social media—Yelp, Instagram, Facebook, blogs etc.—the chef and the restaurant are under constant scrutiny. And for many chefs, the backlash that can come from the public for an item being out on a menu far outweighs the logical thinking of just ordering what you need.

There are multiple reasons that a restaurant might have to “86” a menu item. Sometimes, there are restaurant menu items that aren’t supposed to last all service. It could be an new item on the restaurant’s menu that they are assessing if it sells, they may have gotten a great deal from a vendor on a limited amount of a product, or the item is seasonal and in limited supply. These types of menu items are usually communicated to the wait staff prior to service so they know for example if there are only 20 orders of this or 30 orders of that. As the service progresses, and these items are ordered, chances are the guests coming in later in the service won’t have the option to order these items.

Sometimes—and this does happen more that you would think—the product that was delivered is either spoiled or not up to the quality standards the restaurant expects. The chef has already planned the menu for the service and the product is not up to par and they are either faced with a quick menu change or just to tell guests that product is not available. If the chef can’t run to the store quickly to get a replacement, he/she is forced to do the latter.

A final reason the restaurant might run out of a particular menu item is one of the rarest cases, but it does happen--poor planning. No chef ever wants to run out, but it does happen. They misorder something or forget to order something. Or, just out of the blue, the reservations just come in quicker than expected and there is no time to order or prep a particular item. Overall poor kitchen management, but definitely possible in any restaurant.

All of this leads to a situation that no chef wants to face—an angry or disappointed guest because the item they want is unavailable. The amount a flak a restaurant can receive via social media for being out of an item is incredible, and in very rare circumstances, can cost a chef their job. This type of pressure leads to a typical practice of overbuying product so as not to EVER be out of an item on the menu. Overbuying typically leads to excess food waste. The chef would rather have wasted food than not have enough. It’s a vicious cycle and a fine line that the chef must walk as to not run out, but then again not have too much.

So what can a chef do to lessen the possibility of running out of product?
Here are some practices that every chef can put into place to help with the balance of running out versus overbuying:

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Q&A with Chef Robb

By Robb White, CEC CCA AAC; Executive Chef & Food Waste Prevention Catalyst  //  May 4, 2017

As a follow-up to our recent webinar, “3 of the Biggest Waste Culprits in the Your Kitchen,” we’ve compiled some questions that we didn’t have time to answer. Since many of our blog readers are likely facing similar issues, we wanted to share Chef Robb’s answers with all of you here! If you have any comments or additional questions, we encourage you to post them in the comments below.

Questions from our attendees:

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3 of the Biggest Waste Culprits in Your Kitchen: Part 1--Overbuying

By Robb White, CEC CCA AAC; Executive Chef & Food Waste Prevention Catalyst  //  April 24, 2017

Reducing food waste in a professional kitchen is an ongoing battle. Some solutions are easier to see and implement than others. There are quick fixes that can show an immediate reduction in the amount of food waste, like smaller portions, small batch cooking, cooking to order. Some solutions take time to implement and results come slower, but the outcomes are long-term and impactful. Smart “menuing,” proper forecasting, strong inventory and purchasing practices will make the most impact in the long run. One of the biggest waste culprits in the kitchen is one that often goes unchanged and that is the practice of overbuying. 

Be it purposely or by mistake, food is often over-bought and without strong practices in place to utilize all purchased food, the products most likely end up in the compost or trash bin. Simply put, overbuying is when too much food was purchased that could be utilized before it either spoiled, went beyond the serve by date, or the quality deteriorated. Some might think that all chefs have a handle on purchasing food for their kitchens, but the truth is, not every chef has the experience, know how, or financial acumen to be able to make smart purchasing decisions. Combine that possible lack of skills with the absolute fear of running out of a certain product and you have a recipe for food waste.

So what can chefs do to curb the practice of overbuying?
Here are some solutions:

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Why I Turned in My Chef’s Hat to Fight Food Waste at LeanPath

By Robb White, CEC CCA AAC; Executive Chef & Food Waste Prevention Catalyst  //  March 13, 2017

Robb White, LeanPath Coach and Culinary LeadLeaving a career is never easy, and leaving one that you’ve been doing your entire life is outright scary. I’ve been a chef my whole life. Over 30 years of being in the heat of the battle—the chaos and beauty that is a working kitchen. The kitchen has always been my refuge, my happy place. I’ve been a dishwasher, line cook, student chef, Executive Chef, Culinary Dean, Regional Executive Chef, and National Culinary Director. My career has included extensive travel and stints in hotels, country clubs, B & I accounts, restaurants, and senior living kitchens. I’ve been through a lot, and I’ve seen a lot. 

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