One reason we need to cut back on leftovers: The shelters I tried to donate to were suspicious of my food, and they didn't want anything I had
I've long believed that chefs can radically reduce food waste by planning better, prepping less food, and donating leftovers, in that order. Other strategies, such as "tray-less dining," help in "all you care to eat" settings, such as college dining halls. I recently decided to put my beliefs to the test. In doing so, I realized the limitations of my good intentions and how tough it can sometimes be to put ideas into practice.
I attended a chefs' competition -- a real one, without squadrons of makeup artists, predetermined "secret" ingredients, or unseen hours of washing and prepping ingredients -- for Bon Appétit Management Company chefs. This semiannual Northern California Chefs Exchange started at 7 a.m. with a butchery demonstration, followed by a farmers' market trip and then a tutorial on artisanal tofu making. By noon, the 32 chefs I accompanied on their morning journey were as hungry to compete with each other as they were to eat each others' creations.
Divided into four teams, they plotted their themes and dishes. Then, over the course of two hours, they conquered raw ingredients, including a whole lamb, crisp Warren pears, and yuba, the top skin of tofu that resembles flat noodles when cut into strips. They chopped, peeled, strained, grilled, baked, and composed dishes consistent with the Moroccan, Pan-Asian, California Comfort, and Street Food themes they chose. The pace was frenetic and the kitchen, designed to accommodate only eight chefs, was loud. My role as photographer was about as welcome in a busy kitchen as a salmonella virus.