Cooking Schools Save the Scraps

Learning how to cut vegetables in the proper French julienned design demands the precision of a surgeon. In the nation’s top culinary academies it’s not unheard of for an instructor to pull out a ruler and measure a julienned carrot or baby zucchini to see if the ridged sides are perfectly uniform. If they’re not, it’s back to the chopping block.

Learning to prepare food necessarily requires a trial-and-error approach that leaves classroom counters sagging under excessive but otherwise perfectly edible food. Perhaps more surprisingly, most schools have traditionally done nothing with this "garbage" except toss it in the trash.

But that’s starting to change. Cooking programs across the nation are discovering increasingly creative ways to dispose of their considerable leftovers.

Ray McEnroe, for one, is pleased. McEnroe Organic Farm in upstate New York sends a dump truck to the Culinary Institute of America twice a week to pick up compost made from classroom scraps. McEnroe says the plan works "very well," and it saves him money.

Chicago’s French Pastry School donates classroom fare to local charity events and fundraisers for underprivileged groups. In the same vein, the Art Institute of Atlanta’s culinary school donates fresh and prepared foods to Atlanta’s Table, an organization that distributes food to homeless shelters. According to Ian Mackay, the Art Institute of Seattle’s classes send food daily to nonprofits that work with the homeless.

Following the dictum that charity begins at home, Texas" Culinary Academy of Austin holds a regular "pantry challenge." Students raid the fridge of the week’s leftovers and concoct an elaborate meal, inviting over friends and family. Anything that doesn’t make it into the meal gets composted or donated.
Challenges certainly abound in the quest to dispose of kitchen leftovers. Mackay, for example, recounts exporting huge Seattle rats with the compost he gave to an organic farm. Nuisance notwithstanding, he still agrees with the logic behind using everything but the kitchen sink. It is, he says, a "win-win situation."