Lowering your restaurant’s food cost and reducing produce waste

Produce waste to wasting produce: rethinking the stock bucket
By Liana Robberecht
January 19, 2012
Three steps to lowering your restaurant's food costs and reducing produce waste

As professionals in the kitchen, we have been trained that many produce items can be delegated to the “stock bucket”. This helps control food wastage and food costs. But – here’s an idea – what if we pushed our creativity and moved beyond the “stock bucket” mentality? Would this lead to an even more responsible kitchen with lower food costs and higher profits? What if we stopped thinking about it as “produce waste” and started realizing it was “wasted produce”?

Every September at the Calgary Petroleum Club, the kitchen management team and I sit down to collectively discuss new directives for the year in order to make our kitchen more successful. One mainstay in our agenda is to lower food costs (obviously key to any successful kitchen operation). This year we decided to take another look at what we deemed as “produce waste” – produce items that we felt that were not premium enough to use for preparations or plating, etc. but were certainly not compost.

The new ordinance was to look at “produce waste” in an entirely different way; we decided to take a “nose to tail” philosophy – a philosophy that was already part of our kitchen mission statement. We believe in utilizing and respecting all parts of the animal. So why not produce? Taking a deeper look into how we process the entire vegetable would give us more yield. This, in turn, would equal higher profit from lower food costs: a win-win situation.

Having the benefit of personally knowing most of the farmers who supply our produce gave us a greater understanding and respect for the time and effort they put into growing, harvesting and generating crops; we all agreed that we wanted to have a more respectful approach to how we process our produce. Knowing that we were doing justice to all of the hard work that went into our produce inventory was an added incentive.

To undergo an operational change in the kitchen a three step system was developed:

  1. Take a good look at produce “waste”. Re-examine what goes into the garbage and what goes into the stock bucket.

    Example: Tomato and onion end cuts that normally went into the stock bin now have standard recipes developed specifically for them: Tomato Rosemary Jam, Charred Onion Compote, Fennel Frond Pesto etc.

  2. Discuss new philosophy openly with staff and re-train them to think differently. Have everyone be a part of this change and generate excitement around achieving a new goal set.

    Example: Our kitchen implemented new bins in the fridge separating tomato scraps and cucumber scraps, etc. We also posted memos on the savings we achieved from creating new standard recipes from those scraps. By posting progress, staff could plainly see the positive results of the new way of thinking and their compliance.

  3. Appoint a Produce Surplus Captain, someone accountable and responsible for checking on the progress of staff and the new program.

    Example: By choosing someone with creativity and a passion for reducing waste to head-spear the project, we were able to generate more enthusiasm and had a means to stay on top and follow through. Our Captain looks at every produce item that is thrown away, assesses the possibility of something new, discusses ideas with staff, makes a list and then brings it to the management meeting. It is then collectively decided what items we are capable of undertaking. i.e., tomato ends, cucumber ends and scraps, etc.

By expanding your vision for a low-cost, high-reward kitchen and spurring creativity by changing the way everyone views your produce surplus you can execute a few simple changes that can make a huge difference in the budget. An example of progress in my kitchen is that every morning two to three boxes of oranges are juiced for fresh orange juice for breakfast. Historically, these rinds were thrown away – until now. Under the new regime, these orange rinds are saved, sugar brined, and then made into a syrup base. A new standard Orange Vinaigrette recipe was developed using the base for our House Dressing, and just like that, by changing our House Dressing to an Orange Vinaigrette, we will save over $3,000 per year. Keep in mind that this is just one of the items covered in the new directive.

Moving beyond the stock bucket way of thinking has brought our kitchen new and exciting items for our menu, lower food costs (which keeps our General Manager very happy) and the satisfaction of having achieved a goal we, in the kitchen, have set for ourselves. It’s helped us all to realize just how much wasted produce we can turn into saved dollars and delicious recipes.

See also:

About the author:

Liana Robberecht, Executive Chef, Calgary Petroleum Club, began her training with the Professional Cooking Program at Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (Edmonton), passing the Red Seal qualifying examinations in 1995. Chef Liana is passionately committed to regional cuisine, and a farm-to-table philosophy pervades the three kitchens and staff of 45 under her leadership. She has a number of professional memberships under her belt, including the Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Board and the SAIT Advisory Committee for the Professional Cooking Program.

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