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Justin Cournoyer, chef and co-owner of Actinolite in Toronto, is keen to improve the sustainability of his menu. (Kevin Van Paassen For The Globe and Mail)
Justin Cournoyer, chef and co-owner of Actinolite in Toronto, is keen to improve the sustainability of his menu. (Kevin Van Paassen For The Globe and Mail)

Toronto food festival seeks to change how people approach kitchen scraps Add to ...

If there is a drink that represents food waste to Brock Shepherd, it is the strawberry smoothie. The founder of Kensington Brewery and former restaurateur says that his time in the food industry showed him just how wasteful kitchens can be.

“When I watched people make strawberry smoothies, they would lop off the top and a quarter of the strawberry would be left and thrown out. It would drive me crazy,” he says.

It wasn’t just smoothies that were the culprits. The owner of the now-closed Azul, Rice Bar and Burger Bar restaurants says that every kitchen has been guilty of throwing out large amounts of food.

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According to a 2014 report from Value Chain Management International, Canadians waste $31-billion in food each year, 9 per cent of it at restaurants. So when he learned that luminaries such as Michelin-starred chefs Dan Barber and Massimo Bottura were involved in projects that highlighted food waste, Shepherd was inspired to do something here.

The result is the first Trashed & Wasted food festival, which will be held on March 1 at Toronto’s Wychwood Barns. The goal is to get people to rethink how they approach kitchen scraps and inspire them to waste less, while also raising money for Second Harvest, which collects unused food and distributes it to community agencies. Chefs will create dishes from rescued food and local brewers and distillers will make libations from ingredients that would normally be considered garbage.

One participant is Rainhard Brewery. Owner and head brewer Jordan Rainhard is brewing a special beer for the festival with leftover bread from Blackbird Baking Co. It will be a small batch of 800 litres, and the leftover bread saved him $150 in ingredient costs.

Rainhard says there is potential for the brewery to use more recycled ingredients, but it comes with some challenges. “The downside is the unpredictability of flavour, especially if you want to use fruit,” he says. “You’ve got be picky about which recycled items you use.”

Rainhard is one of a group of Canadian chefs and food companies figuring out how to reduce waste at every step of their process. Breweries are big consumers of water: At Rainhard, water used for cooling beer is diverted into a tank where it is stored until it is used again for cooling or cleaning.

Spent grain is also a byproduct that could be reused. Some brewers share it with chefs, who use it for baked goods. But the grain supply is significantly greater than what restaurants need, Rainhard says. Breweries outside of cities often share the grain with farmers, who use it for feeding cattle.

In Montreal, the Blanc de gris farm produces some of the city’s most coveted mushrooms, found on the menu of more than 30 local restaurants, including the revered Toqué, Le Diplomate and Petite Maison. It’s also leading food rescue with innovative farming techniques. The company collects coffee grounds and spent grain from local cafes and breweries to create the foundation from which the mushrooms grow.

“There is a huge difference in our mushrooms when compared to other oyster mushrooms. Our mushrooms are more tasty and firm. Also, they lose less water,” says Dominique Lynch-Gauthier, the company’s co-founder. “This is because of the coffee grounds, which are very good food for the mushrooms. The smell is a little sweet and the taste is like walking in the woods with nuttiness like hazelnuts or almonds.”

Justin Cournoyer, chef and co-owner of Actinolite in Toronto, is also keen to improve the sustainability of his menu. Using spent grain from Burdock, a nearby brewery, to make his bread is just one part of a larger effort, he says. Experimenting with byproducts that would instead be thrown out has been rewarding, he says, such as turning the tops of celery root into a sweet celery oil, for example, or making miso, fish sauce or vinegars with leftovers from tuna, pork and beef. “These flavours are making our food so much more interesting. It’s a new seasoning. It’s new umami flavours,” he says.

Cournoyer has a long-term goal: to create something he calls a New Canadian Food Guide, a community of farmers, producers, restaurants and educators that works together to create a sustainable food system. “I don’t want to be preaching to other chefs about what to do or what not to do. But I feel like we should be taking more responsibility as chefs on how Canadians should eat,” Cournoyer says.

In the meantime, festival organizer Shepherd says there are many things Canadians can do at home to participate in reducing waste. The 2014 report highlighted the fact that 47 per cent of all food waste comes from homes. Start with something simple, such as using the cooled water used to cook vegetables to water houseplants or garden, Shepherd says.

“Share or swap food with a neighbour. Just knock on the door, bring them something,” he says. “It’s more than just reducing our food waste and environmental impact. It’s about community as well.”

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