Meet the chefs leading SA’s food waste movement

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By Vanessa Keys

Banana peels, vegetable skins and corn husks aren’t ingredients typically associated with fine dining but local chef Kane Pollard is on a mission to change the way we think about food waste. He’s the head chef and owner of Topiary, a restaurant that’s nestled amongst towering gum trees in Tea Tree Gully.

He’s worked there for nine years and owned it for seven, successfully transitioning it from a cafe that sold sandwiches and scones to an award-winning restaurant that’s leading the charge when it comes to the South Australian food waste movement.

The Topiary’s housemade halloumi and its ricotta, semi-dried tomatoes and garden basil.

Everything you eat at Topiary is made on the premises – the butter, cheese, cured meats and fish, sour cream, yoghurt, all the breads, mustard – but Kane doesn’t stop there. Everything that’s bound for landfill is given a new purpose: corn husks become a malty corn bisque soup, excess sourdough starter is turned into a flaky tart shell, the stones from fruit are used to infuse oils and vinegars, and whole bananas are roasted in their skins and turned into a banoffee parfait.

“A good example is the cheese making process, during which you separate the curds from the whey,” says Kane. “It’s a long process and to discard three quarters of the total volume seemed nuts.” Kane and his team experimented with reducing the whey down and turning it into a caramel, and also using it in place of water to brine meats.

“Now, we add milk and draw the ricotta out of it, and serve it alongside the cheese that it came from,” he says. “So on the menu we serve ‘halloumi and its ricotta’, and the combination of the fried, salty, chewy cheese and the light, fluffy, sweet ricotta is incredible. It still blows my mind that they come from the same pot.”

The Topiary’s whole grilled eggplant, cultured buttermilk, cured yolk, and society garlic.

Kane’s not the only SA chef who’s putting waste on their menu. Tom Tilbury at Coriole restaurant Gather aims to operate a zero waste kitchen, with a stringent ban on single-use plastics and an expanding menu of dishes that use the whole animal and vegetable.

“All of our pork offcuts that don’t get used are cooked down, shredded and turned into a creamy pork rillette,” says Tom. “It’s served on a puffed bread cracker that’s made out of the odds and ends of sourdough. We soak it down, puree it and then deep fry until it puffs up. Absolutely no bread in our kitchen goes to waste.”

That mindset is echoed by a growing number of restaurants in the CBD, including regional Thai restaurant Soi38, South African BBQ hotspot Africola and Asian grillhouse Shobosho, who repurpose ingredient waste from Maybe Mae and the Shobosho kitchen into their cocktail list.

Coriole Gather’s pork rillettes, apple, savoy cabbage, sourdough crackers.

“There’s no such thing as waste – it’s just another ingredient,” says Africola’s head chef Duncan Weldemoed. Take their much-loved cauliflower steak: all trim goes in a pot, is cooked down and turned into a puree used to dress the steak. Their romesco pepper and barbecued carrot dishes are also marinated using trimmings that would otherwise end up in compost.

For Soi38 owners Terry Intrarakhamhaeng and Daisy Miller, the obsession with using waste started with mushrooms. “We use a lot of mushrooms in our curries and stir frys, and had all these stalks leftover,” says Daisy. “So we cook them down with peanuts and pickled sweet radish and turn them into dumplings.”

Africola’s head chef Duncan Weldemoed.

SA isn’t just leading the war on waste in the kitchen; the state is also home to a new national research centre created to combat Australia’s $20 billion food waste bill. Dr Steven Lapidge, CEO of the Fight Food Waste Co-operative Research Centre (CRC), says SA was the “natural home” for the centre.

“From container recycling to banning plastic bags, SA’s been a leader in sustainability for a long time. We also have the lowest food waste per capita,” he says.

Steven says dozens of initiatives are already taking place across the state: at the University of Adelaide, the 40% of potatoes that are graded out for cosmetic reasons are being turned into products like puree, dairy-free ice cream and vodka.

“SARDI (South Australian Research and Development Institute) is working a lot with the seafood industry,” says Dr Lavidge, “particularly with lobster waste, which they’re turning into lobster oil and powder for other foods.”

Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development Tim Whetstone, left, Interim Dean of Waite Campus Associate Professor Chris Ford, Dr Steven Lapidge and Food SA CEO Catherine Sayer at the Waite Campus for the State Government’s announcement of the Fight Food Waste CRC.

CRC’s mission is to grow these initiatives by identifying businesses with troublesome waste streams and assigning them dedicated research resources to help find ways to stop food ending up in landfill.

For waste to be taken seriously by diners, aesthetics plays a big part, says Kane of Topiary.

“We want waste to be the key ingredient, rather than just making sure it gets used,” he says. “That means the dish needs to not only taste exceptional but also look beautiful. We want to change perceptions.”

Join Kane for a five-course dinner that showcases his zero-waste approach at his Tasting Australia event, Waste Not Want Not. $60, 6.30pm, Topiary. Tickets on sale now.

Main image features Topiary head chef and owner Kane Pollard.

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