The Movement to Turn Food Scraps Into Gold

How chefs are upcycling trims into flavour punches


The Movement to Turn Food Scraps Into Gold
Dining August 6th, 2018

In a fine Italian restaurant perched on the 43rd floor of the Ocean Financial Centre, a waiter arrives bearing a dish of seafood marinara pasta. The fresh spaghetti is deep-fried, and speckled with mussels and two different types of clams. It’s good with a generous spoonful of bottarga (fish roe) mayonnaise. But what really elevates it is the sprinkle of colourful powders that punctuate the dish with briny flavours of the sea.

These rainbow-coloured powders are made from recycling kitchen scraps. Squid ink is dried in the oven, scraped off and turned into a dark, velvety powder. A vibrant coral powder is made from blending dehydrated tomato skins. Leftover capers are turned into a sandy dust packed with deep umami. And the sprinkle of herbs for a pretty green touch? Oregano powder.

“When I was working at Cracco Ristorante (in Milan, Italy), chef Carlo would check the bin every night to ensure no useful parts of an ingredient was discarded,” says Emanuele Faggi, head chef of Zafferano Italian restaurant & lounge.

“Working conscientiously with every ingredient has become a habit,” says the Italian chef.

Chef Emanuele Faggi is Zafferano’s fairy godmother, with his bottles of ‘magic dust’. Photo by Wong Weiliang

 In 2006, culinary whizzes like Ferran Adria and Heston Blumenthal dazzled the world with fancy techniques like smoking liquid nitrogen, and food turned into whimsical spheres. But more chefs are now recognising concerns like food waste. Singapore alone, for instance, generates nearly 791,000 tonnes — that’s the weight of 3,500 MRT trains — of waste.

At Nouri, chef-owner Ivan Brehm salts daikon leaves and cooks them in lots of olive oil as a meaty and savoury substitute for anchovies. Herb stems are also infused in vinegar, and fish skins turned into crackers for snacks.

“We stopped using words like scraps, or even ‘trimmings’, and started to refer to them (like actual ingredients) as peel, pulp, seeds, and off-cuts.”

-Ivan Brehm, chef-owner of Nouri 

It’s a classic case of how beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. Take the pigeon dish at Braci. The roasted pigeon legs are paired  with pistachio crème, and nashi pear poached in moscato wine. But the star that binds this dish together is a beautiful gem of liver pate, made from the oft-discarded pigeon liver.

Here, head chef Mirko Febbrile saves this bit and turns it into a beauty. The liver is first bathed in milk, raspberry vinegar and bay leaves to remove its strong smell. It is then blended, put through a fine sieve, and encased in a deep-red Moroccan date jelly. The piece de resistance: a small jar of warm savoury jus, made from roasting then boiling the pigeon bones over five days.

Pigeon liver is an oft-discarded ingredient thanks to its strong smell. But at Braci, it is turned into a gem that is paired with the restaurant’s pigeon dish. Photo by Wong Weiliang

“When you have to think of other things to put with the main dish, you want to use ingredients that elevate the pigeon. But if we were to use porcini, for instance, that’s adding on more elements,” says Febbrile.

“But when we pair the pigeon with liver pate, and use a sauce on the side made with the pigeon bones, it’s something genuine that enhances the dish without adding on more different flavours,” he says.

Braci’s head chef Mirko Febbrile turns bread trimmings and egg shells into quirky garnishes for his dishes. Photo by Wong Weiliang

 “I used to cook for my brother when we were kids, and my mum had to go out to work,” shares Febbrile.

“There were days when there was not enough money to go to the supermarket to buy things for lunch. My mum would tell me, ‘if you want to be a chef, open the fridge. Whatever you have in there, make the best dish’.”

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