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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:

Q: What do you say to a chef or a culinary team that is incredibly adamant that they "have NO food waste"?

That they’ve completely mastered this process so they have none or minimum waste?

A: Well, I would have to say that is virtually impossible to have no waste. There is waste generated from each and every kitchen. Even if a chef says they have utilized every scrap of food - not everything is edible. I’ve run into chefs that say they don’t have waste because they put all the vegetable scraps into stocks. That’s great, but not all vegetable scrap can go into stocks (what about lettuce cores, avocado pits and peels, herb stems etc.?) and even if they are utilized in stocks, when the stock is finished there are the leftover vegetables and bone—that’s waste. Unless a chef finds a way to repurpose banana peels, beef bones, honeydew rinds, lemon peels and all those other things on a regular and consistent basis, the kitchen will have waste.  

Each chef can do their best to reduce the waste, but no chef can eliminate it. Even the very best kitchens have food waste. The goal is to make it safe to talk about it—it’s not punitive thing, it’s an opportunity.

Q: What is the range of reduction in food waste that you have attained at restaurants?

A: Typically, we see a pretty dramatic reduction right away, with an average 50% reduction within the first year of starting to track food waste. In some cases, where we have really strong chef champions in place, we’ve actually seen reductions closer to 80%. This also translates into food cost savings—usually between a 3 and 8% reduction in food purchases by taking control of overproduction, spoilage, and other areas where over-buying was occurring

Q: How does one inspire staff to track food waste?

A: Inspiring a staff comes from leading by example. Talk about food waste with them, make it a transparent thing—not the elephant in the room. Also, once you start tracking your waste show them the vast amount of food that is being thrown away in your kitchen (in both weight and value) and set a goal to reduce that waste. Celebrate the achievements of hitting those goals and the impact that your reduction of waste had on the bottom line, and the environment. Our LeanPath systems show the chefs those implications and they are then able to share that with the staff. You can’t motivate anyone to do anything, but you can inspire them. Change is good, and a positive change such as reducing food waste is a great thing.

Most vendors will break cases so you only order and receive what you need. Why buy 30# of lemons when you only need 10#? Ask the vendor for a different pack size—most offer it or are willing to break apart cases for you.

Q: Any tricks for reducing waste while operating a 5 week cycle menu? 

We serve a different menu each day which complicates things a little bit. It doesn’t allow for as much cross-utilization of product. We do collect data and forecast numbers the best we can, it just seems no matter what, there is always something left over.

A: I applaud you for trying what you can to reduce waste! For cycle menus, there are two big ways that you can begin to reduce the amount of waste. The first starts with smart menuing. When I wrote cycle menus, I always had my Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C for each and every item I put on the menu. Plan A was the original plan for the food item, Plan B was how I was going to use anything that was leftover in another dish the next day, or sometime later in the week, and Plan C was if I still had product left, how could I safely store it for use at another time without killing quality. I used to plan all my menus out on this massive grid and give repurposing of food and how I was going to utilize everything as much importance as the variety and quality of the rest of the food. I planned with repurposing and utilizing leftover product in mind, not as an afterthought. Production sheets were written with this in mind as well.  

The second way is the collection of data. I kept immaculate records of what I bought, how much we prepped, portions sold, and waste tracked. This data helped me the next time that week rolled around, so I could make adjustments in the menu or purchasing. I knew what sold and how many. I knew how much I bought and how much was left. I then used this information to adjust my purchases, my production sheets and ultimately I saw a reduction in waste based on just those two changes.

Every kitchen will have waste, it wasn’t until I dove deep into the data and pushed myself out of my comfort zone by analyzing the data and forced changes in purchasing and production that I began to see real change. Good luck chef!

Q: Should we be tracking items like coffee and tea grinds as waste? 

A: Personally, I track everything. To me, coffee grounds are a byproduct of a food item. I used to work at a place where we would dry and bag all of our coffee grounds and give them away in a “Grounds for your Garden” kiosk that guests could come in and take the coffee grounds after we tracked the weight of them. They used them in their gardens and mixed them in the soil. We still tracked them, but tried to find a home for them besides the compost bin or landfill. We also tracked any leftover coffee or tea that we brewed and had to waste. We often would chill and freeze the coffee to use in sauces, or give it to the pastry department to utilize in their creations.

Did you have a question that wasn’t answered?
Email askchefrobb@leanpath.com


Topics: Food Waste Musings, Food Waste Prevention Newsletter, commercial kitchen