The concept of eliminating food waste is having a moment — but it’s not new information. In the past few years, many restaurants have shifted to provide seasonal menus, produce better composting methods and create dishes and drinks made from food scraps that might otherwise be thrown away. Though these are methods people have used for centuries simply to survive, to us it’s fine dining.
On February 26, Equinox restaurant co-owners Chef Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff will partner with Lani Furbank to host “Waste Not, Want Not,” an event detailing how composting and zero-waste cooking can help you run a sustainable home kitchen, while also saving you money. Kassoff and Furbank are both part of the D.C. chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier, a philanthropic organization of women leaders in the food, beverage and hospitality industries.
Equinox has worked with sustainable kitchen practices for decades now, even before it was trendy.
“We evolved composting over time,” Kassoff says. “And now, the public has become aware of the issue too, so it seems like people are jumping on board.”
All over D.C., restaurants are working to be more sustainable, taking notes from past practices to include more ethical sourcing, preparation and disposal. As restaurants shift, D.C. residents can, too.
“I’ve lived here all my life, born and raised Washingtonian,” Kassoff says. “I think we’ve always been a very green-minded city. Back in the ’70s, there were huge campaigns around litter…now, most residents are attuned to what the issues are.”
Kassoff says in the recent past fine dining has actually been a major culprit for food waste; they take the cuts of meat and produce they need and get rid of the rest. Of course, there’s a spectrum — some chefs were trained with zero-waste in mind, while for others, it wasn’t a priority. But that’s changing, especially as events like “Waste Not, Want Not” become a more regular feature in the D.C. cultural scene.
“It really just depends on the chef and where their head is at,” Kassoff says. “Even we’re not always using every single scrap. I mean, I wish, but it’s not always usable. I’ll look at something and be like, ‘Why can’t you use that?’ And Chef Gray says, ‘Because it’s gross, it’s bitter, there’s nothing I can do with it.’ It’s going to the compost. There’s a learning curve to take a carrot top and make pesto out of it — and make it taste good, too.”
That learning curve is what participants will master at this event. You’ll learn to take old techniques — canning, jarring, preserving — to create a new understanding of conservation in a home kitchen.
The event will also feature a panel by others in the District involved in the zero-waste world. Jeffrey Neal, founder and CEO of Loop Closing; Lela Singh, retail and social media manager of Teaism Tea Shop; and Caroline Howe, Aspire program coordinator for D.C. Department of Small & Local Business Development will share their expert sustainability insights.
Guests will tour Equinox’s composting system, and afterwards watch as Chef Gray prepares scrappy snacks. Cocktails and mocktails will also be available, made with ingredients that often go to waste. All to show residents that a sustainable kitchen is not that hard to create.
“It’s just a matter of retooling your thinking,” Kassoff says.
Individuals are often targeted as the solution to waste, and while there are structural issues that should be addressed before blaming consumers, it is true that composting and decreasing food waste is one of the best ways for individuals to lower their carbon footprint. And the District makes it easy with several composting programs in all eight wards. “Waste Not, Want Not” will give you some tools to get started.
And Kassoff offers a quick tip; a small preview of what this mindset shift can look like.
“Take your classic pickle jar. When all the pickles are gone, most people take that awesome pickling liquid and throw it away. Why not just reuse it and pickle some more vegetables? It’s that easy.”
“Waste Not, Want Not” takes place February 26 from 4-6 p.m. Tickets are $35 — including bites and one drink — and can be purchased here.
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