Pickling and fermenting.
For all the Brooklyn stereotypes, in the right setting, these can still be rather impressive ways of preparing food. Though two chefs who spoke at Taste Talks Brooklyn on Saturday developed many of their techniques in a lab, they were not there to wow the audience with fussy food prep. Will Horowitz, owner of Ducks Eatery and Harry & Ida’s, and his friend Jaime Young, chef and co-owner of Sunday in Brooklyn, have much loftier goals.
“We’re going to get real weird here,” Horowitz warned at the beginning of the panel, cleverly titled “Redefining Food Waste: Sustainability, Seaweed and Why You Are Just a Big, Fat Mushroom.”
While they did pass around three-year-old cured retired dairy cow beef, and a gummy sweet they called “Sauerkraut Kids” made from carrot peels, what they had to say wasn’t all that foreign to the audience, who had just spent the day hearing food waste and monoculture being denounced at nearly every panel. Their approach, however, has the potential to be game changing.
Horowitz and Young have spent quite a bit of time experimenting with food in the back room of Harry & Ida’s, trying to use methods of our ancestors to repurpose the food most of us would throw away.
“The word ‘food waste’ is a modern invention,” Horowitz declared. “Let’s take a look at history and use it as guidelines or inspiration for the future.”
At Sunday in Brooklyn, for example, Young has found many uses for koji, the mold spores traditionally used to make soy sauce and sake. He cultivates it from white beans to make koji butter that he serves with radishes. To turn the usually tough flat iron steak into a delicacy, he marinates it in amazake sauce made from white bean koji. He also dehydrates and roasts the spent limes from his restaurant’s bar into a seasoning component for his dishes.
For much of what he sells at Harry & Ida’s, Horowitz visits the farmer’s market at the end of the day to buy what the vendors couldn’t sell. He cures root vegetables and cantaloupe to make them resemble charcuterie, and turns scraps of cabbage into sauerkraut. At his new restaurant, Harry & Ida’s Luncheonette, he serves dishes such as broccoli stems in fermented black beans and sauces made of carrot peels.
Another potentially low-cost (both in the financial and environmental sense) source of food the chefs have been exploring is seaweed. Its use now is too limited to make it a valuable crop to cultivate, so Horowitz, Young and a few others have been experimenting with turning it into products such as jerky that might appeal to more people.
“We’re facing an apocalypse of small restaurants,” was another of Horowitz’s concise, alarming statements. Because of rapidly rising food, real estate, and labor costs, he said chefs and owners have to become innovative. “We’re going to have to learn what our grandparents and great-grandparents did: How to turn nothing into something.”
To spread this concept beyond their restaurants the chefs plan to launch a site called Common Scraps, which they envision as a Craig’s List for food waste. This would be not only a free marketplace for previously unsellable products but also a database that would help farmers learn those “heritage” techniques such as fermentation that Horowitz and Young have been using to make new products. They finished their presentation by showing a video they made to raise funds for the site.
“We need to put the skills back in people’s hands,” Horowitz said. “There’s a lot of very small, little things we can do.”