Cow corn: a.k.a. Field corn. Different from “sweet corn,” this crop is largely fed to animals or used for ethanol production and represents about 99% of the 90+ million acres of corn grown in the U.S. (What a waste.)
If you’re into farm-to-table food, you cannot do better than Blue Hill, which has one location in the West Village, and its flagship on a farm north of New York City. It’s the ultimate in high-end, conscious dining. I am such a fan of their ethos, that I chose it for my combined birthday-Christmas dinner. But this March, they’ve ramped it up 10 notches with their two-week-long pop-up, wastED.
Of course, it seems like a skit right out of Portlandia. A high-end restaurant lovingly crafts a full menu out of typically trashed stuff: The unattractive (broken razor clams, off-grade produce), the leftover (cocoa pod husk, spent grain from the beer brewing process, monkfish tripe), odds and ends (the stuff that ends up at the bottom of an everything bagel bin, pasta scraps, chicken crumbs), unwanted (dairy cow meat, offal), and meat from animals fed waste food.
You might think it very twee, but the menu is a fascinating culinary education in the wide world of food waste. Who knew there was so much that was sent to the dump every day, from every type of food production? I didn’t.
We arrived at 7 pm (all the reservations are long gone, but they reserve tables for walk-ins), and waited for an hour in the back area, kept quite entertained the whole time by the menu, which has a handy glossary on the back.
Immature eggs: Unlaid eggs that are sometimes discovered in the oviducts of slaughtered laying hens.
I started with a Concrete Jungle Juice cocktail, odds and ends with low fructose cow corn syrup, while my boyfriend got a KelSo pilsner. We ordered a plate of cheese composed of the items that Whole Foods throws away at the end of the day. Not because it’s gone bad, but there’s some complication with their SKU system that makes it more efficient for them to just toss the stuff. It was delicious.
When we moved inside to the bar, I got myself another cocktail: the Immunity Booster, Melvin’s juice pulp gin and last night’s champagne. The waiter came over and unwrapped burlap from around bread created from spent grain, then poured beef tallow from a burning candle that had been sitting right in front of us into a dish for dipping. Around us, the walls were draped with the textile used to protect crops from wind and pests. The tables were grown from compostable materials and mycelium, a fungus.
The menu was originally advertised as a prix fixe at $85, in which you can choose one thing from each of the five sections. But they’ve now opened it up so that you can choose as many items as you want from any section. Each plate is $15, and four plates and a dessert will fill you up quite nicely.
Rotation Risotto: A rice-less risotto made with a variety of different grains and legumes, which our wheat farmer plants in order to increase the fertility of his fields. These rotation crops typically go into livestock feed.
I started with the Hearts and Cores, broken razor clams with pig’s ear vinaigrette, then moved onto Cured Cuts of Waste-Fed Pigs, reject carrot mustard, off-grade sweet potatoes, melba toast from yesterday’s oatmeal, and a Rotation Risotto, second-class grains and seeds, squash seed pulp, pickled peanuts, spent cheese rinds. My boyfriend got the Rack of Black Cod, carrot top marmalade, fish skin and parsley vinaigrette, the Dumpster Dive Vegetable Salad, pistachio, damaged storage apples and pears, whipped chickpea water, the Juice Pulp Cheeseburger, repurposed bread buns, ReConsider cheese, bruised beet ketchup, pickled cucumber butts, and Dog Food, unfit potatoes and gravy.
Fish Pepper: A variety of pepper cultivated in the Chesapeake region during the 19th century for use in oyster and crab houses. wastED’s fish peppers are left over from a recent seed trial and Cornell University.
As each plate came out, our eyes kept rolling back into our heads. The Bagels & Lox, the cuts of pig fed with waste milk, the salad made from vegetables rescued from being piled into a dumpster, the cheeseburger and Dog Food made from unwanted meat that is usually made into dog food were so beautifully rendered, it was easy to forget that we were eating rejects. The bartender pulled out an iPad to show us pictures of where the food was from, like a pig with his snout covered in milk. She told us that the point is to show that all these reject foods can be a marketable product in the right hands. They don’t need to be thrown out.
By the time we wandered out the door at 10:30, three and a half hours later, we were quite giddy. Perhaps it was the three cocktails I ordered, but more likely it was that we had been fed, educated, and entertained all in one glorious, sustainable night.
It’s possible, if the restaurant is a success, that it could go for another week beyond the end of the month. But I wouldn’t take the chance. Clear your calendar, grab an eco-nerd dining partner (or better, a completely oblivious dining partner) and get thee to wastED. It’s a dining experience you’ll likely never forget.