March 18, 2015
The room has been transformed, the walls obscured by "row cover," the fabric farmers use to protect their crops. The tables are also new in every sense of the word; they were grown in February with compostable materials and mycelium. The result is cozy and warm, a bit like eating in a cocoon.
And the menu, it's safe to say, is unlike any you have seen before. WasteEd, Dan Barber's pop-up in his Blue Hill restaurant is intent on reimagining waste, making something out of what is usually thrown out. He's invited 20 different chefs to join him, creating special dishes on successive nights. Last night Alex Raji made pork skin noodles with ruby shrimp, Iberico-Choicero pepper XO sauce and potato skin dashi. Tonight's chef is Alex Stupek.
But the bulk of the menu belongs to Dan and his teams, and it is completely fascinating food. This is what I ate last night.
Hidden inside that little paper cone are the most delicious warm fried skate wings – the bones you usually leave behind. They're so crisp they crackle as you bite into them. The tartar sauce is infused with smoked whitefish heads. So much more satisfying than french fries!
This salad is made from damaged storage apples and pears, along with the leavings from a major commercial food processor. The vegetables are crisp and fresh, with a hint of pistachio dancing along the edge of the flavors. That whipped stuff on the side that looks like cream? It's just the water from cooked chick peas that's been whipped.
Cured pork from a waste-fed pig, served with melba toast made from leftover oatmeal.
This may have been my favorite dish of the evening: it's what's left after the smokehouse cuts the filets off the sable (or black cod), which is usually thrown out. Meat is always sweetest close to the bone, but when you run a knife along this tender, silky, luxurious fish you encounter something remarkable. It's even better dunked into carrot top marmalade and parsley vinaigrette.
Monkfish have the ugliest heads, which are usually discarded. The cheeks are called wings, and fried they can give chicken a run for its money. The hot sauce on the side is made from the almost-forgotten fish pepper, which was once ubiquitous in the crab joints of the Chesapeake.
You can burn beef tallow, and WasteED does. It gives a lovely light.
You can also pour it into a dish and dip this chewy bread into it.
There was more – a "burger" made of the pulp left in a vegetable juicer, a sorbet made of cocoa pod husks, a bread pudding made from whey. It was all delicious. Cooks have been using scraps for thousands of years, and it's good to be reminded that talented chefs can do remarkable things when they choose to cook low on the hog. In ordinary times, everything we ate last night would have gone into the garbage. And that's just wrong.
The dishes on the WasteEd menu are $15 each, and you'll want to try everything. But there's not much time; come April, WastEd vanishes and Blue Hill Returns.
Sean Brock, of Husk in Nashville and Charleston will be the final guest chef. Should you want to join him, for free, Tasting Table is running a sweepstakes for dinner for two.
And if you're looking for some useful tips to use at home, Gabrielle Hamilton's new cookbook, Prune, has an entire chapter called Garbage. I learned a lot.
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