If you haven’t heard, Blue Hill in New York City is going through some renovations this month. In the meantime, they’re hosting the pop-up, wastED. As the name suggests the restaurant focuses on the wasted cuts of meat and produce of the restaurant industry, giving them the spotlight and a life of their own. At some point during the meal, my husband uttered a very true statement. “You know we’re basically eating garbage…really expensive garbage.” He was absolutely right. Though I must stress, very DELICIOUS garbage.
Brain child of Dan Barber, Executive Chef and Co-owner of Blue Hill, wastED s a collaboration with local farmers, fisherman, distributors, processors, producers and restaurants to re-conceive “waste” that occurs at every link of the food chain. Everything in the restaurant has been repurposed, from the dining space to the menu. Even the tables were grown-combined with compostable materials and mycelium to be later used as a substitute for commercial styrofoam packaging. There is so much in our food system that ends up in compost or landfill. For example, when a fish is filleted. There is so much meat still left on its ribs. Other than a bit of effort to pull the meat from its bones, it’s still delicious, edible fish, as Dan Barber illustrated with is Rack of Black Cod with Carrot Top Marmalade, Fish Skin and Parsley Vinaigrette. Or the unappealable–broken razor clams–rejected for their appearance, in this case their shells not fully intact. Barber turns the meat of these clams into an amazing dish.
Bread served with dinner was made with 60% spent grains from Kelso Brewery and served with whipped lardo and guests were encouraged to dip their bread into a dish of melted beef tallow, that also served as a candle to illuminate the meal. (Side note from Blue Hill, not wastED, I discovered they serve house-made gluten-free bread! Beyond delicious…). And one of my favorite dishes of the night–Dumpster Dive Salad–combined leftover greens, perfectly saturated with dressing, served with bites of storage apples and pears, pistachios and a dollop of whipped chickpea water.
And all of this is not being excited by Dan Barber alone. Each night he is joined by a guest chef, committed to this idea of sustainability. When we dined last Thursday, it was Bill Telepan. I might have mentioned a couple zillion times how much I admire him as a chef. This namesake restaurant, Telepan, has always delivered a near perfect meal, for occasions big and small, and excelled in an even more challenging feat–achieving brilliant wine and beer pairings. Executive chef for the night, each guest chef adds a special dish of his or her own creation to the evening’s menu. How could I not order it? Telepan’s dish Tonnato, Tonnato, basically “tuna, tuna” did not let me down. Intense cuts of tuna were served with cured blood line aioli and scraps of radishes in the form of leaves, slivers and green leaf pesto.
Beyond the pop-up, I don’t know that this idea has legs to last. The meal is beyond educational, as staff walk around with image loaded iPads, showing guests what their meal started as and what would normally become of the ingredients. And the food is beyond delicious, as only Dan Barber and his dozen of chef companions can do. But it does beg the question: if these undesirable ingredients can come out on top, why have they been so neglected?
wastEd will run through March 31, just another week. I strongly encourage you to give it a try. With each course being just $15, and the suggestion of 4-5 courses per person, it’s not cheap, but also not expensive for a unique experience you may never again have. Would I consider this one of my top ten meals ever? No. But one that I will never forget? Absolutely.