Northern Arizona University (NAU) began using the LeanPath System in late June 2012, installing automated tracking systems in both of their dining halls. LeanPath sat down with Executive Chef Timothy Cunningham to learn more about their experience with the system and changes they’ve made to reduce food waste in their kitchens.
Tell me a little about your background and role at NAU.
“I’ve been at NAU since ’96. I’m originally from San Diego and started in foodservice when I was 16 years old—over 30 years of experience now. Coming from the restaurant environment to residential dining has been a learning process. I’ve really enjoyed it.”
What were your expectations for the LeanPath program?
“Just being more aware of the waste—training front-line staff on how the program works and what shouldn’t be wasted. When you see a dollar amount, the staff members are like ‘wow—this is really worth that much?’ It keeps them more conscious of waste and diligent in finding ways to reduce it.”
What are some strategies you’ve used to reduce waste?
“Vegetables were a high-waste item for us. So we started utilizing left-over veggies to make veggie broth for our stir-fry station. We also properly cool down veggies from our Simple Servings Station to use them in other recipes the next day. We recently made a creamy veggie cheddar soup (rather than just broccoli cheddar) and it got very good reviews. Our diner station used to have a lot of burger and chicken patties left over. We’ve reduced that by doing more cook-to-order once we reach a certain time before closing. Anything else can be ground up to be re-used or cut up for soups, etc. We’ve done a great job at reducing waste and left overs.”
What is the best part about using the LeanPath System?
“Awareness—bottom line. Sharing the information with front-line staff. It also provides us with measurable data to share with the university as it relates to the strategic plan for waste reduction.”
What would you say to a chef/manager that is not currently tracking food waste?
“You better start now!”