These days, nothing makes guests widen their eyes in amazement like a nose to tail approach to your menu. With interest in items like sweetbreads, bone marrow, and all sorts of head cheeses and organ meats at an all-time high, diners’ feelings toward the foods collectively known as offal have evolved from nervous trepidation to eager anticipation.
Meanwhile, those in the culinary world — particularly millennial chefs and diners — are increasingly leaning toward the practice of sustainable cooking. In fact, a concerted effort to be sustainable is quickly becoming necessary part of maintaining the trust of some of your younger customers.
A greater focus on the environmental impact of the things we consume is certainly thoughtful, and increasingly necessary, but it often can seem difficult and pricey to implement. However, it actually can be very profitable for businesses, including restaurants, to make efforts towards reducing their carbon footprint.
In a recent Nielsen survey, 55 percent of consumers indicated they were willing to pay more for products and services from companies committed to making a positive environmental impact. We know what you’re thinking: Make more money, gain my customers’ trust, and improve the world in the process — where do I start?
One practice to try is stem to root cooking, where a chef makes a concerted effort to use the entire vegetable (hence the name). Sweeping fine dining establishments across the country, stem to root is increasing in popularity and has found its way into all sorts of kitchens, restaurant and home alike — and for good reason.
Waste not, want not
We all want to be better citizens of the planet in some way, and stem to root cooking is ultimately a more sustainable way of looking at the food we prepare. According to a study from Harvard Law School and the Natural Resources Defense Council, 22 percent of food waste in the United States derives from fruit and vegetables. And of the fruit and vegetables we purchase, 52 percent is discarded, uncooked, or otherwise uneaten.
But there’s a far less lofty, yet equally important, reason to consider stem to root cooking for your restaurant: it’s thrifty, saving your kitchen team money and time. After all, finding creative ways to stretch your dollar is part of what makes restaurants successful over the short and long term. And with wholesale food costs on the rise, saving money by minimizing waste and maximizing ingredient yield is a compelling argument for adopting stem to root.
Consider incorporating more of the vegetable into your final dishes in a unique — but, of course, pleasing — way. Generally, the stems, leaves, and roots of most vegetables taste similar, making it easier than you may think to use each piece. Beet stalks, for example, lend as rich a taste to a salad as the whole beet would, and radish leaves can add a brilliant peppery flavor to an otherwise sweet mix of ingredients.
Even if your customers might balk at the appearance of broccoli stem or artichoke leaves on their plate, you can still make use of the entire vegetable behind the scenes. Leaves from vegetables like carrots or cauliflower, tomato stems, and corncobs can be used to flavor stocks or sauces. Young onion tops, minced finely, add a boost to mashed potatoes. And broccoli stalks are just as flavorful as the florets frequently called for in soups. You won’t be wasting the more popular, and visually appealing, cuts that you may want to display on the plate.
Program restaurant Ellary’s Greens, winner of Ecocult’s Best Green Restaurant award, has even found ways food scraps can transform other ingredients. Using celery’s naturally-occurring nitrates, they cure their bacon in house. They have also been experimenting with using hazelnut skins to make milk for cooking and their smoothies.
Are you up for the challenge?
Ultimately, however, what stem to root cooking does is challenge your chef to arrive at creative ways to make the most of his or her ingredients — and what chef doesn’t like a challenge? It can take a lot of skill and ingenuity (as well as access to high-quality whole produce), but the results are often revelatory.
Dishes like fried green tomatoes and pickled watermelon rind arose from the thriftiness and genius of cooks who didn’t want to waste under-ripe or discarded pieces of fruit. And now, both of these dishes have evolved far past their practical origins into staples of Southern cooking that diners clamor for.
No matter how much of the vegetable you use or why you choose to do so, a stem to root practice can open up new worlds for your chef, your diners, and your bottom line. That’s a win across the board for your restaurant.
Still concerned about the price tag behind going green with stem to root cooking? Take a look at how a merchant cash advance can help get you there: