"Waste not, want not."
It's a saying that's been used for centuries to remind people that they should care for their resources. But it's also a fitting description for a new Family Meal offering at Balzac, 1716 N. Arlington Pl., which aims to tackle the growing issue of food waste in restaurants.
Beginning Feb. 19 at 10 p.m., Balzac will offer a weekly Sunday meal for service industry personnel. Modeled after the tradition of family meal, during which a chef prepares food for his staff to eat before service, the weekly event will feature a variety of dishes created by Balzac Chef Ronnie Oldham. Dishes will be offered at no charge with the purchase of a beverage.
The offering, says Balzac’s general manager Emily Chirillo, is a boon for hard-working bar and restaurant employees. But it's also a way for the restaurant to call attention to – and do its part to help eliminate – food waste.
The National Restaurant Association – one of many organizations which have taken a stand for eliminating food waste – reports that U.S. Department of Agriculture findings estimate food waste to comprise as much as 30 to 40 percent of the food supply. According to the USDA, in 2010, an estimated 133 billion pounds of food from stores, restaurants and homes was wasted.
To top things off, the food service industry ranks among the most recognizable offenders, with an average of 150,000 pounds of garbage generated by restaurants annually. And interactive web sites like SavetheFood.com are working tirelessly to get the word out about how change can be made.
For years, Milwaukee restaurants have been tackling the issue of food waste head on through efforts like composting, using scraps for stock and just getting more creative with their menus.
But the discussion has gotten renewed attention in recent months. Earlier this year, Chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barns announced plans for a new European version of wasteED, a pop-up concept he introduced to New York in 2015 which features well known chefs cooking dishes from scraps that might ordinarily end up as restaurant waste. For the new London pop-up, British chefs including Gordon Ramsay, Clare Smyth and Tom Kerridge have signed on to bring awareness to the issue.
Chirillo says the Family Meal is part of a larger effort on the part of Balzac to cut costs and reduce the restaurants footprint through better use of food.
"Food waste is a really tough thing to prevent in a restaurant environment," she says. "But our chef is really great at making use of the scraps that result in a kitchen. Thanks to his efforts, we’re making use of more and more odds and ends and using them for things like stocks."
The new Sunday offering is also a good way to build awareness, notes Chirillo.
"This is about really nourishing people," she says. "But we also want people to be aware of what they’re eating. We wanted to use this as a way to open up a dialogue and set a good example for others. And we’d love to see more restaurants using it as a model for what they can do."
"Working in the restaurant industry, it’s often hard to give to a greater cause," Chirillo says. "But this is a way that we can really contribute to something greater than us."
Lori Fredrich (Lo) is an eater, writer, wonderer, bon vivante, traveler, cook, gardener and girlwonder. Born and raised in the Milwaukee area, she has tried to leave many times, but seems to be drawn to this quirky city that smells of beer and alewives.
Some might say that she is a little obsessed with food. Lo would say she is A LOT obsessed with food. After all, she has been cooking, eating and enjoying food for decades and has no plans to retire anytime soon.
Lo's recipes and writing have been featured in a variety of publications including GO: Airtran Inflight Magazine, Cheese Connoisseur, Cooking Light, Edible Milwaukee, Milwaukee Magazine and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as well as on the blog Go Bold with Butter, the web site Wisconsin Cheese Talk, and in the quarterly online magazine Grate. Pair. Share.