East Williamsburg Chef to Take on Zero Waste Challenge at NYC’S Food Waste Fair

Tiffany Cordero

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The second annual Food Waste Fair is just around the corner and this year’s event promises to be even better than the last. The NYC Food Waste Fair, hosted by The Foundation for New York’s Strongest, is an interactive experience connecting the hospitality industry in NYC with the resources and knowledge they need to achieve zero food waste. The overarching goal is to make it easier for business owners to save money and embrace sustainable operations in their business.

Established in 2016, The Foundation for New York’s Strongest is the official nonprofit organization of the New York City Department of Sanitation. The foundation leverages non-traditional strategies to promote sustainability and advance the essential services of Sanitation employees. This is achieved by emphasizing New York’s Strongest as one of the city’s emergency responders and highlighting their critical, daily service; forging partnerships with private-sector organizations to move New York City toward zero waste.

“New York City businesses throw away more than 650,000 tons of food waste annually, said Julie Raskin, Executive Director of the Foundation for New York’s Strongest. “Food waste decomposing in landfills produces more than 3.3 billion tons of methane every year. But chefs know that food scraps are not garbage. Leftover food from restaurant kitchens can be used to make a new meal, or even be used to feed animals, turned into compost to help nourish soil and grow healthy food, or create energy.”

Previously, the event consisted of hands-on workshops and skills training for chefs and industry professionals, with over 80 food waste solution exhibitors as well as experts helping to address all of the “how do I?” questions.

However, based on the feedback they had received previously, the event has expanded. Attendees can look forward to a week of workshops and a movie screening that all lead up to the Food Waste Fair and will end with the first ever “Zero Food Waste Challenge.”

From soup kitchen cooks to Michelin star chefs, innovative culinary leaders will compete to highlight the importance of food waste reduction in New York City businesses. The challenge tasks chefs with using an upcycled or commonly underutilized ingredient of their choice—from cauliflower stems to entire brussels sprouts on the vine—in order to create a new dish.

At the “Zero Food Waste Challenge,” which is being held on May 23 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, attendees will have the opportunity to sample all of the dishes, sip a signature cocktail featuring upcycled ingredients and participate in an audience vote for their favorite creation.

Attendees can also look forward to a panel discussion with judges and participating chefs, moderated by Jake Cohen, Editorial and Test Kitchen Director at The Feedfeed.

“The Zero Food Waste challenge demonstrates that preventing waste can be fun, delicious, and even hip. But more importantly, it shows that tackling food waste is an issue that all chefs, from across the city’s diverse hospitality sector, must tackle together,” said Raskin. “Being more mindful of waste forces a creativity in the kitchen that can yield some pretty amazing dishes.”

Participating chefs in the zero food waste challenge. Courtesy of Food Waste Fair.

One of the chefs participating is Naama Tamir, owner of East Williamsburg’s Lighthouse.

Tamir grew up in Israel and moved to New York City after serving in the Israeli Defense Force. Not surprisingly, the culinary power house took a liking to the city and decided to stay.

While studying Philosophy and Psychology at Hunter College, Tamir worked in restaurants with her brother. Not long after having done time in the city’s restaurant scene, Tamir and her brother realized that food was something they really loved doing but they wanted to bring that experience to the city in a unique and sustainable way.

“Part of growing up in Israel included the importance of connecting to the ecosystem, it was embedded in our education,” said Tamir. “Part of academics was taking one day a year of schooling to work on a farm.”

Family style dinner at the Lighthouse.

Sustainability found a way into Tamir’s kitchen naturally. Tamir fondly remembers foraging with her parents, something she keeps in mind when creating her menu. Tamir strives to serve delicious, but also nurturing, natural food. By incorporating practices from her homeland, Tamir easily embraced sustainable business solutions.

“We wanted to drive a mission of sustainability,” said Tamir. “To be ambassadors of sustainability and thought doing this through the layout of a restaurant could lead us to influence others in a positive way through food.” 

The Lighthouse partners with several organizations to work towards maintaining their sustainable business status. Some of their partners include The Billion Oyster Project, BK Rot, and Common Ground Compost.

When asked about her dish, Vegetable Poofs with Herb Labneh & Pesto, Tamir replied “the dish itself is kind of like something we would make at home. It was our focus to look at the scraps and see what we can do with it.”

When asked what she thought an event like this meant for the Lighthouse’s mission Tamir said, “It’s exciting that the city is shining a light on this. It feels like we’re partners in this journey to figure out what a better system might be. It’s nice to be on the same side. I hope that beyond this event. We can come up with ways to make all of these endeavors easier and make us all as a community a little more mindful.”

Cover image courtesy of Food Waste Fair.

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