I ate garbage for dinner the other night – and I liked it. What’s more, I paid for it. Welcome to WastED, a Manhattan popup designed to do what its name implies: educate about waste, and in this case, food waste.
For a short two weeks, the restaurant Blue Hill in the West Village transformed into sustainable food haven for all things edible. Food scraps that normally get thrown out (the stems, the bones, the skins, the pulps, etc.) are transformed into palatable dishes. The message you receive isn’t overtly political or preachy; it’s just delicious and innovative. What’s more, each night featured a different big-deal chef from a cast of heavy-hitters like Sean Brock, Grant Achatz, April Bloomfield, Alain Ducasse, Dominique Ansel and many more.
The menu itself is a hilarious read about a motley crew of vegetal misfits. On it you’ll find descriptions like “unfit potatoes,” “reject carrot mustard,” “yesterday’s oatmeal,” and “second-class grains.” There’s even “dog food,” which is actually a meatloaf made of ground up meat offcuts that the company usually uses to make a gourmet dog food.
The ambiance supports the cause. Swaths of curtain-like tapestries adorn the walls, which are essentially drop-cloths farmers use to shield their crops. Even the tables have been constructed from a mixture of compostable and other materials. When asked about the ramifications about a mushroom allergy, the waitress says it won’t be a problem with the food, but that the tables are partly made of mushrooms. Upon inspection, the interiors do indeed have a spongy, Styrofoamy texture.
After ordering a Boiler Maker comprised of “bourbon, flat beer syrup, and spent coffee ground bitters,” we are inducted into this most out of the ordinary meal with an earthy, rustic brown bread that the waitress flipped onto our table with sleight of hand and a burlap napkin. The bread, we are told, is made with leftover beer mash – think the grains that are used to make beer – and accompanied by whipped lardo as a spread and liquid beef tallow, which to our surprise she pours from the candle giving our table a lovely glow.
Next it’s onto the first of five courses. “Dumpster Dive Vegetable Salad,” comprised of pistachios, peelings of damaged storage apples and pears is fresh and delicious with the creamy tang of the dressing, the crunch of the nuts, and the intriguing foam made from leftover chickpea water (you know, the stuff you normally drain from the can).
Next comes the “Rack of Black Cod,” the remnants of a poorly fileted fish that normally would be chucked out, though a fair bit of meat still clings to the bones. The fish is tender and pleasantly oily, and complements the delicious, faintly sweet “carrot top marmalade” – a judicious use of the part of the carrot that’s usually thrown away (I’m more mindful of this now – last night I used the green tops of my carrots as a garnish rather than sourcing a whole separate herb).
Mario Batali is the star power supporting the concept on this particular night, and we (okay, I) gape in awe as he strides purposefully toward the kitchen, flaming red hair pulled back, clad in his signature orange clogs and followed closely by an entourage of videographers and microphones. His contribution is the third dish, a cannelloni of faux ragu with pigs ear Bolognese. It’s phenomenal, and a testament to why this man dominates the Italian scene in New York City.
Next up is the “Juice Pulp Cheeseburger,” made from the spent vegetal byproduct acquired by lots of juicing. It’s served with “cucumber butts, bruised beet ketchup, ReConsider cheese and repurposed bread buns,” and while hearty and satisfying tastes much like your run-of-the-mill tofu-esque veggie burger.
You find your fork wandering to your companion’s plate, where the combination of “pork belly, carbonized pig bones, Cornell dropout squash, and waste kraut” is a powerful and delicious lure.
What to do about the dessert conundrum? Will it be Charred Pineapple Core with candied mango skin and lime leaf ice cream or the Milk Oat Ice Cream Sundae? The sundae wins out, with sweetly savory candied vegetable pulp (that yes, tastes good – like a sweet beetroot syrup), a funky fermented cherry, and caramel with walnuts and almond biscuit. If it were permissible to lick the rim of a sundae glass in a restaurant, it would have happened.
It’s a new era of eating.