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

Recent Posts

If You Can’t Prevent, Repurpose

Posted by Robb White, CEC CCA AAC; Executive Chef & Food Waste Prevention Catalyst on November 20, 2017

When it comes to reducing the amount of food waste your kitchen generates, prevention is key -- actually having just enough food purchased, prepped, and cooked, and no more. Of course, no matter how well you forecast, there are times you will have food left over. Chefs and kitchen managers need to be able to utilize this leftover product in order to keep their food waste to a minimum and to keep their operations financially viable.

Also, no matter how well you plan, you’re also left with trim. And whether you repurpose that citrus peel or not, you still paid for it. Throwing out trim is throwing out money, just like throwing out an overproduced pan of lasagna is.

Repurposing food is nothing new, but it has to be a deeper part of many kitchen cultures. Utilizing every bit of the food we buy, grow, and prep in our kitchens is critical in reducing food waste and the associated production of greenhouse gasses wasted food generates. Although there is a lot of food lost throughout the entire food supply chain (farm, processing, retail, consumer, etc.), in high-income countries the majority of food waste is generated toward the end of the chain, by both pre- and post-consumer activities. The kitchen staff is literally at the vanguard of reducing food waste, reducing greenhouse gasses, and saving the water that is lost from wasted food. (Yes, prep cooks can save the world!)

There are pockets of change throughout the industry, restaurants that focus on zero-waste, ugly produce programs, food donation programs (a form of repurposing), new menu items that utilize cuts or parts of products that were once considered “undesirable,” restaurants that work directly with farmers to grow exactly what they need, and the focus on tracking and controlling food waste in the professional kitchen are just a few of the noted changes being made. Still, with the much needed changes slowly taking place in the behavior and mindset of the consumers and culinary industry, we need to do more, much more.

We need to retool our brains, open up our creativity, and our palates, change our mindset, and embrace the behavior change that comes with utilizing and repurposing our food. So what does that look like for the consumer and the industry professional? Here are some ways you can change your behavior and refocus your efforts on repurposing food that will minimize your avoidable food waste.

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

5 Tips to Inspire Your Kitchen Staff to Track Food Waste

Posted by Robb White, CEC CCA AAC; Executive Chef & Food Waste Prevention Catalyst on June 23, 2017

 I often get asked, “Chef, how can I motivate my staff to track their food waste?” It’s a good question, and one that comes up often. My simple answer usually is “You can’t.” I am a firm believer that you can’t motivate, but you can inspire. Motivation vs. Inspiration is a well documented topic and one that often leads me back to heated debates I used to get into when I served as the Dean of Culinary.

 

Culinary leaders and chefs often fail to understand a simple fact of human nature: people are intrinsically motivated beings. My students enrolling into culinary school were ALREADY motivated. When I was a working chef, I realized my kitchen staff would come to work for two reasons: to earn money to support themselves and their family and to make a difference in the lives of who they cook for. Motivating others is an outside-in approach to leadership that is not sustainable over time because people don’t need motivation. They need inspiration. Inspiring people is an inside-out approach to leadership that is entirely self-sustaining, as people strive to reach their fullest potential, whether in be in their personal lives, or their workplace.

 

My move to Leanpath was one of inspiration as I saw the work that Leanpath was doing to reduce food waste. One of our core values is - We are passionate about solving food waste - and it reads:

 

“Food is a precious resource. We are here to make a lasting impact in our world. Reduction helps ensure food is available to hungry people, natural resources aren’t wasted, and we’re combating the critical issue of climate change.”

For me, this is inspirational. It’s visionary. It’s the “Why” we are doing what we do. It aligns with an end goal. Motivation, although useful, is also short sighted it looks for the feel-good moment to keep going.

 So back to the original question, “how can I motivate my staff to track their food waste?” The answer is, you can’t, but you can INSPIRE them, and here are 5 ways to do that: 

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Topics: Kitchen Culture, Food Waste Strategies

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

Posted by Robb White, CEC CCA AAC; Executive Chef & Food Waste Prevention Catalyst on 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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Topics: Food Waste Musings, Food Waste Prevention Newsletter, commercial kitchen

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

Posted by Robb White, CEC CCA AAC; Executive Chef & Food Waste Prevention Catalyst on 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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Topics: Food Waste Musings, Food Waste Prevention Newsletter, commercial kitchen

Q&A with Chef Robb

Posted by Robb White, CEC CCA AAC; Executive Chef & Food Waste Prevention Catalyst on 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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Topics: Food Waste Musings, Food Waste Prevention Newsletter, commercial kitchen