Chefs Discuss The Culinary Potential Of Kitchen Waste And How It Can Help Foster A Sustainable System


When I dined at Araku Restaurant in Mumbai last December, a specific condiment served with shrimp toast grabbed my attention. Head Chef Rahul Sharma had incorporated carapace mayonnaise made from prawn shells. I was dumbfounded but equally fascinated with how a chef has reimagined mayo with the outer covering of shrimp. Now, that’s food for thought, quite literally!

Araku Garlic Thecha

Repurposing leftovers is a sustainable practice that has always been ingrained in our culture. For instance, the Bhetki (Barramundi) Macher kanta chochori is a popular Bengali dish made using fish bones and heads. Leftover rice can be used to make patties, whereas rice water can thicken soups. Offals of meat are consumed in many Northeast cultures and tribal communities. Dhebras—Maharashtrian pancakes made using overripe bananas (often discarded), wheat flour and jaggery—are a much-loved delicacy in my house.

However, the fast-paced urban life has made us forget some of these practices. We often rely on ready-to-eat meals or prefer to order in without being conscious of the waste created through these kitchens. When we decide to cook, we think of quick and easy recipes. But have you ever thought of the innovative ways of turning vegetable trimmings or fruit peels into the hero of a dish? Well, some chefs are doing just that. Given that around one-third of all food produced is either lost or wasted each year, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, some chefs are on a mission to explore the endless possibilities that kitchen by-products offer.

Raised Right

Potato Chocolate Cake

Sustainability is a catch-all term that can quickly turn into greenwashing if not used mindfully. While waste management is an important aspect, there’s more to it than meets the eye. “It’s not just about the (local) ingredients you use or where they are coming from anymore. The most important thing about being sustainable is how that food was grown and what the overall impact on the environment was,” Chef Sharma shares.

Chef Johnson Ebenezer & Team, Farmlore

At Farmlore, a restaurant in Bengaluru that bagged five stars at the recently concluded Ultimate Restaurant Ratings by Culinary Culture, Chef Johnson Ebenezer and his team design seasonal 10-course degustation menus, which allows them to pluck only as much as needed from the farm. “We have a crop rotation system that goes around the farm; the produce has a cycle where it grows, so we don’t over-pluck or overstore. We can control the amount of produce. So, it starts with harvesting. When we get a particular produce from the farm, we are okay with it if it’s not in perfect shape. We’ll still use it because it’s a gift of nature,” Chef Ebenezer says.

Products of By-Products

At Chef Prateek Sadhu’s restaurant, Naar in Kasauli, pea pods become the source of a liqueur used in cocktails. Chef Davinder Kumar, Vice President, F&B, & Executive Chef, Hotel Le Meridien New Delhi, launched a book, ‘Second Meals’, that includes 150 recipes like watermelon rind curry and apple pulp pie that utilise food scraps to minimise wastage. Bengaluru-based Elizabeth York, co-founder of Edible Issues and Saving Grains, collects discarded spent grains from breweries to make bread.

The Mango Tree Salad, Fig & Maple

Similarly, Chef Radhika Khandelwal of Fig & Maple, New Delhi and Goa has been on a mission to champion zero-waste cooking for over eight years. Her dish Pumpkin and Barley Risotto uses an entire pumpkin, including its skin, seeds, leaves, and flowers. Another dish, Carrot Top Pesto with Prawns, uses every part of the carrot plant. “By blending carrot tops with nuts, cheese, and olive oil, we create a vibrant and flavourful pesto sauce that pairs perfectly with succulent prawns,” she says.

Chef Johnson, on the other hand, burns onion skins to turn them into ash and uses them to add a smoky flavour to some of his dishes. He also ensures the tips of strawberries don’t go to waste by converting them into ferments to extract as much of the flavour or nutritional value. “Edges of certain breads that have not proved enough or baked right are dried, powdered and made into tasty chips. Leftover croissants turn into spice crumbs and potato skins are fermented, fried, and made into a flavourful powder that tastes like chaat masala and is used as herb salts,” Chef Sharma explains.

Beyond The Plate

While chefs have found exciting new ways of converting scraps to scrumptious bites, there are certain trimmings or peels that have found use outside kitchens. “When we make ferments or kombuchas, we don’t throw out the residue that remains; we compost them, and these compost bins rejuvenate the soil. It’s a full circle in terms of waste management,” Chef Johnson shares. Through regenerative agriculture, Chef Sharma and his team are working with farmers to ensure that the practices they follow and the farms they source their supplies from are adding carbon back to the soil.

Way Forward

What can chefs do to take sustainability into account? Chef Khandelwal explains it best. “Addressing these challenges requires a shift in mindset, as well as a willingness to prioritise sustainability and responsibility alongside other considerations such as taste, consistency, and cost. By fostering curiosity, embracing flexibility, and prioritising the long-term health of the planet and communities, chefs can play a crucial role in driving positive change within the culinary industry.

Read the full story on ELLE India’s new issue, or download your digital copy via Magzter.

- Lifestyle Editor


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