Zero-Waste Cooking

This celebrity chef is teaching Americans to waste less, and eat more

I had the opportunity to interview A&E’s Scrappy Chef last year … the piece was originally published in North Carolina Living Magazine (Spring 2021), but as the message is “evergreen” and wasting less should be on the forefront of everyone’s mind, I thought it worth sharing. Happy reading : )

Best known as the host for A&E’s hit series “Scraps,” Chef Joel Gamoran is one of the country’s most well-known sustainability-focused chefs. In addition to his television show, Joel served as the National Chef for Sur La Table, makes monthly appearances on NBC’s Today Show and is author of “Cooking Scrappy.” With a passion for cooking with ingredients that most people tend to toss in the trash—think mushroom stems, banana peels and such—Chef Gamoran has shown millions of people (myself included) how delicious and gratifying it is to get scrappy in the kitchen, all while making a personal impact on reducing climate change. Recently, I got a chance to chat with him about his no-waste philosophy and what propelled this scrappy chef to learn how to cook deliciously, with less.

I grew up in a home with overabundance, and knew that as I got older and saw the world, that it was my duty to share what I had learned,” says Gamoran of his background and inspiration to look for more sustainable ways of cooking and preparing meals.

“We were the family that always had food on hand and full trash cans with food that spoiled,” and adds Gamoran, it’s this experience that played a huge role in shaping him as a person first, and a chef second.

Gamoran studied at the Culinary Institute of Florence and the Culinary Institute of America and has since brought his skills and enthusiasm for teaching people how to waste less and eat more to the forefront of America’s home kitchens. Last year, he partnered with U.S. Soy—a relationship he says he’s beyond proud of—and together launched the popular series “Stretched: Make More with Less.” In each episode, Chef Gamoran demonstrates simple, creative ways to stretch a featured ingredient to maximize its use and avoid food waste such as savory carrot top pesto and creamy brown banana ice cream.

Two of my personal favorite recipes I learned from Chef Gamoran—both in his cookbook—are the onion skin fried pickles and the cheese rind tomato bread soup (seen here). Both delicious and both use a no-waste approach that makes you feel good about what you’re putting in your body, and not in the trash. Read more from my conversation with Chef Gamoran below, and learn more about him on his website and Instagram page. | @joelgamoran

Two of my personal favorite recipes I learned from Chef Gamoran—both in his cookbook—are the onion skin fried pickles and the cheese rind tomato bread soup (seen here). Both delicious and both use a no-waste approach that makes you feel good about what you’re putting in your body, and not in the trash. Read more from my conversation with Chef Gamoran below, and learn more about him on his website and Instagram page. | @joelgamoran

NORTH CAROLINA LIVING: How’d you come up with the idea for Stretched?

JOEL GAMORAN: COVID-19 was a big driver, I was speaking to my longtime friends over at U.S. Soy, and we were seeing in real-time the efforts that U.S. farmers were putting forth as essential workers to put food on our tables during such uncertain times. Soybean farmers do so much to keep their farms operating sustainably, regardless of tough times and serious concerns around our global food supply. Yet, the story of farmers is often less heard. We wanted to leverage my passion for sustainable cooking to creatively bring awareness to the amazing work of our U.S. farmers and the importance of supporting them through purchasing U.S. grown ingredients and doing our parts to reduce food waste by using these ingredients to their max potential. This is how Stretched was born!

NCL: When did the series launch and what were you doing before?

JG: The series launched on Instagram in May 2020. Before this, I was hosting a show called Scraps on A+E networks where I traveled the country inspiring people about how to cook with parts of ingredients that normally get trashed. So it was a super organic and meaningful next project for me.

NCL: Why is this whole concept of zero-waste cooking important?

JG: First, as I mentioned above, making a habit of these simple strategies in the kitchen is a small way to show our appreciation of all that goes into our food supply and play a role as consumers in making the food system as a whole more sustainable. Second would be the planet! Food waste is a major contributor to climate change, to break it down rotting food in your dumps = methane gas = ozone issues. Another key player, money! The average family of four wastes about 30% of the food it buys, which clocks in at nearly $2,000 per year. So learning how to make the most of what you got can save you thousands of dollars. Last, but most definitely not least is flavor! These wasted ingredients have loads of potential to up your cooking game in an impactful way. Don’t toss them down the drain! Ever tasted a carrot top or banana peel? Guess what? They rock!

NCL: Are there any particular items you always have on hand that help you “stretch” your own meals at home?

JG: Definitely. I have what I like to call, my “always ingredients,” which are super versatile key players in stretching almost any ingredient in a whole range of delicious meals. These ingredients are kosher salt, good white wine vinegar, soybean oil, eggs, greens, local honey, whole grains, spices, and Dijon mustard.

NCL: OK. That’s food for thought, literally. Switching gears a bit, can you give me your thoughts on the massive grocery shop vs. the small shop … meaning, here in the U.S. we are prone to want, want, want and there’s some comfort in having an overstuffed fridge and pantry, yet those CostCo trips often end up with us purchasing more food than we ever really use and therefore, throwing it away.

JG: Yes, and I think we can almost all relate to, or at least have witnessed this tendency in the past few months with “pandemic panic purchasing.” The comfort in having enough in the fridge and pantry is understandable, especially right now, but in my opinion, if we’re willing to make the effort to learn and grow, there could be an equal sense of comfort in trusting your own ability in the kitchen to get the most of out of each ingredient you buy, as this means saving money by not making each trip a massive haul. You could be surprised how much more you can get out of each trip. There’s also a longer-term sense of gratification in knowing that you’re contributing to a stronger and more sustainable food system. There’s a learning curve, and it may mean adopting some new habits in the kitchen, but that’s exactly what Stretched, and my mission as a whole seeks to address.

Joel’s Top 5 Tips for Stretching Your Food

Stop wasting so much and start “stretching” what you already have in your refrigerator, pantry and freezer

  1. Make your own healthier chips out of produce that’s not looking so hot. Simply add a drizzle of soybean oil (commonly labeled vegetable oil on grocery store shelves) with some seasonings of choice and toss them into an oven at a low temp to dry them out at a super slow rate. 
  2. Don’t forget about cocktails! A simple syrup which is one part sugar and one part water can be boiled and infused with any ingredients you have on hand.
  3. Learn how to make catch-all dishes like frittatas, risotto and soups so you are always equipped to make the most of what you already have. 
  4. Try and see the whole ingredient. Take a moment to assess what parts of your everyday staples you might be used to throwing away, like onion peels or stale bread. There’s likely a use for them that can help you. 
  5. Entertain guests by frying up a special homemade appetizer. I love frying things that might seem like they have no more life to give in a neutral oil like soybean oil, like carrot peels or sad-looking herbs. They get crispy and beautiful – the fryer is a huge player in stretching ingredients. 

In October 2020, Gamoran launched, a virtual best in class digital cooking platform showcasing real experiences with some of the most entertaining chefs from around the country. From FREE donation based public classes to media events and private events, because, says Gamoran, everyone deserves to learn how to rock out a homemade meal.

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One Comment

  1. Dorothy's New Vintage Kitchen

    Nice interview Shauna. I will make a point of looking up his show. Some of these little steps can easily become habit, and they take no time at all. I’m always looking for ways to use stuff that is usually tossed out, but I learned this lesson from my mother, who was a kid in the Depression and learned it all from her own mother!


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