For those of you who were fortunate enough to attend our Chefs To The Rescue event held on October 18th, you likely sampled at least a few of the dishes prepared for the evening using re-purposed leftovers or scraps that might have otherwise made their way to the waste bin or compost heap. But, thanks to some skilled and creative locals, the dishes were more than a little appetizing, and if you hadn’t known otherwise, part of a typical menu planned by the attending chefs.
Starting with Chef Philip Pretty from Restauration in Long Beach, his inspiration came from Farm Lot 59, where he sources his produce to keeps things seasonal in the kitchen. His dish for the event focused on the sun-choke, a vegetable similar to the artichoke, but more mild in flavor. Using the roots, stems and leaves he was able to create a delicious soup topped with a bit of sunflower seeds and crumbled bacon for crunch. As an elegant touch and some extra flavor, he added a quail egg. Some cooks might discard the outer leaves or stems of a vegetable and toss them as inedible. Instead, a perfectly flavorful starter was created.
Chef Paul Buchanan of Primal Alchemy Catering has always focused on farm fresh items and nutritious meals, even teaching our youth how to identify and cook vegetables right from the garden. He offered a variety of bite-sized items that were made using overage ingredients from recent catered events. He had quite a variety to sample, including cured pancetta wrapped dates, a smoked fish on crostini with green tomato jam and pickled carrot, blood sausage wontons with an apricot sweet and sour sauce, and to round it out, a blackberry cobbler with oat crumble. These were items you might ordinarily enjoy at an upscale gourmet mixer or wedding and none the wiser, would have assumed they were part of Buchanan’s typical catering repertoire.
Chef “T” Ouk of the Federal Bar in Long Beach called on his local culinary training to devise a multi-faceted tasting menu as well, with an emphasis on seafood. He served a pickled salmon tartare with cilantro and an avocado and citrus crema, along with sea bass cakes and a fish chowder. As a meat option, there was Mongolian beef made from tougher cuts of meat that he marinated and served with kimchi aioli and potato skin fries. Anticipating this event, Chef T had purposefully saved some of his overages of seafood and meat that he froze and then recreated into each of the dishes. Every time I turned around, he had a line of guests 10-20 people deep, so if you managed to try his dishes, it was worth the wait.
When I hear the word, “vichyssoise” I associate it with an upscale restaurant, maybe with a little of the old school influence, but Chef Alfonso Ramirez, Chef de Cuisine of Catal in Anaheim/Downtown Disney was rather innovative with his version of this cold soup. Using leftover mashed potatoes and potato peels for additional flavor, he added leeks, onions, cream and chicken stock to create one of the tastiest items in the room, and topped it with a bacon and fried onion crumble. The presentation made it completely top notch. Who knew comfort food could look so fancy?
One of the newer restaurants to make the Long Beach culinary scene is taste Wine-Beer-Kitchen. Chef Brad Neumann took over the kitchen in 2015 shortly after they opened. At our event, he flexed his culinary muscle by featuring a popular item–street tacos. Neumann’s version was made with whey braised pork and a spicy carrot top salsa, topped with fried carrot peeling and, pickled chard stems and finished with a vegetable pulp crema. Clearly the man knows how to make the most of his kitchen scraps and leftovers. I always wondered what I could do with the vegetable pulp leftover from my juicer, other than adding it to a pasta sauce, and now I’m inspired!
Slapfish had a great night, with Chef Andrew Gruel showcasing Hoki fish that was crusted with crumbs from the ends of bread loaves, paired with a pickled broccoli stalk and lobster slaw and drizzled with a green goddess sauce made from herb stems. For seafood fans, it was like having an elevated fish taco just without the tortilla. What is so great about Slapfish is that they started as a couple of food trucks and have now expanded to multiple ‘brick and mortar’ locations, including Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and LAX.
Another Downtown Disney restaurant, Tortilla Jo’s, was represented by Chef Ernesto Hernandez. His mouthwatering Cochinita Pibil is something the restaurant often serves as their family meal, the meal team members enjoy before starting service for the day. Using excess proteins of pork or beef they re-season the meat with characteristic Mexican dry spices including Achiote, oregano, cumin, along with whole cloves, cinnamon, garlic and black pepper. Orange juice is folded in and all ingredients are wrapped in banana leaves and steamed until the desired tenderness is achieved. They preserve any onion scraps by pickling them in vinegar, sugar, water and salt and use that as a garnish that complements the dish very well. The pork was served with tortilla chips made from leftover tortillas from the previous night’s service. Might have to make this dish part of their happy hour menu if nothing else, right?
Chef Eric Samaniego recently joined Michael’s of Naples as the head chef, bringing a talent that was previously demonstrated on Bravo’s “Best New Restaurant”. His repurposed kitchen ingredients resulted in a tasty salad that featured carrot tops braised in beer, shredded braised duck neck and a parmesan rind vinaigrette. After the event, they kept this salad on their menu and are donating proceeds to Food Finders. This is a great way to continue the message of reducing waste while also sustaining the effort of hunger relief.
Karie Kearney, baker extraordinaire and owner of Miss Priss Cupcakes and Such put a fall touch on her featured dessert, turning leftover pumpkin cupcakes and cake “shavings” into a Pumpkin Caramel Toffee cake, with a graham cracker crumb bottom and cream cheese frosting. Guests were going back for seconds on this one–even the pumpkin-averse enjoyed it. I’m one who does like pumpkin, but she had me at caramel toffee, if nothing else. While Kearney’s cupcakes are always a hit at parties and events, she does have an occasional batch that she will count as leftovers, which typically get donated to schools and others as part of her community giving. Lucky recipients!
author: Patti Larson, Executive Director, Food Finders