Haven’s: A Zero Waste Kitchen in New York City

Kat Heinrich

Updated 23 April 2018

Restaurants and cafes are known to be massive generators of food waste. It’s just part and parcel of running a food service business, right? But it doesn’t have to be, as Chef David from Haven’s Kitchen explained during a live cooking demonstration at the ISWA World Congress in Baltimore.

I watched with interest as David showed how he reuses the milk dregs leftover from making lattes, and turns it into ricotta cheese. “You bring it up to about 160 celsius, then you add lemon juice or vinegar to it, and it separates into curd and whey. And then, a product that you would have tossed down the drain, you can now sell for six bucks.”

This was just one example of the many zero waste practices that Haven’s Kitchen does and it intrigued me because I’d always considered milk dregs to be one of those “unavoidable” wastes. David’s demonstration made me begin to question, how much food waste generated back-of-house by restaurants is avoidable? And, what measures can a cafe take to reduce food waste, meanwhile helping their bottom line? So I made an appointment with David to visit him at his New York City restaurant to find out more.


Food waste at restaurants and cafes: the magnitude of the problem for cities

Working together with restaurants and cafes is a key strategy for cities to tackle food waste. Consider these statistics:

Into Haven’s Kitchen

As I entered Haven’s Kitchen I was expecting to see signs, or information on their menus, promoting their zero waste practices. Instead, I saw their menu plainly chalked on a board behind the counter and was greeted by a couple of smiling staff. David showed me around the venue, and explained there are three parts of their businesses: the cafe, cooking school and event space. “Our big mission is on sustainability. Reducing waste is just one part of that. We don’t really like to brag about it when we do it, so you won’t see much promotion in the restaurant.” We sat down over a coffee and David explained how they reduce food waste at every step of their business operation: from purchasing food, preparing it, serving it, using leftovers and then, when nothing more can be done, sending it to compost. 

David Mawhinnie, Haven’s Kitchen

Photograph supplied by Haven’s Kitchen

Purchasing Practices

The first way that Haven’s is reducing food waste is through their purchasing practices. Their food distributor, Baldor, designed a program called SparCs (scraps backwards), which offers trim, tops and peelings for sale. All trim is edible, and is leftover from making carrot sticks and dicing onions. Haven’s purchases the SparCs, and uses them to make delicious stocks soups, pestos, scones and cookies.

When purchasing meat, Haven’s buy offcuts, or cuts that are difficult for butchers to sell. “Everyone wants prime rib, so we don’t serve that. We’ll look for our portions that might not be perfect portions and we’ll braise them or we’ll do something else like that, so that you’re still getting the same amount of meat, but it’s just not that perfect kind of thing. I just think that people have to get away from that perception.”

But running a zero waste kitchen sometimes requires taking the customer along for the journey. “You’ll get some wedding couples they’re like “Well, I have to have this cut of meat.”  And then, it’s on us, and it’s on our sales team to say here’s why we don’t do that. Sometimes, we give in because we want to keep the lights on. But most of the time, when they understand it, they really respect it. It’s one of the reasons why they keep coming to us. We’re thoughtful in that kind of sense.”

Food preparation and cooking

Haven’s takes measures to ensure they are using all edible parts of the food they are cooking. The first step is reducing waste during preparation – practices that they teach students in their cooking classes. “You’ll see when people like, they’ll cut the bottoms off of celery. And you’re losing 10 to 20% right there. When you cut an onion top off to start peeling it. Like somebody will take off a good portion of it. I’m coming at it from a cost point of view, like you just threw away 10 cents. But also from a waste point of view, that’s, for me, completely avoidable waste. You know, cut the onion in half first, and then peel it, and then you’re fine and there’s no waste there.”

The chefs also cook creatively, using parts of the food that most would consider as inedible. “People throw tomato stems, but we put the tomato stems in the tomato stocks. Because if you ever smelt tomato stems, they’ve got an incredible amount of tomato flavor, and that’s something that they’ve been doing in Italy forever. Another example is cauliflower. About 40% of the actual cauliflower is just wasted, the leaves. It’s a huge waste. Now, what we can do is we can take those, and we wrap fish in them, and we steam them like you would a banana leaf, or like something like that.”

“I’m coming at it from a cost point of view, like you just threw away 10 cents. But also from a waste point of view, that’s, for me, completely avoidable waste.”

Portion control

America is well-known for its large food portions. Weddings are no exception, and so I was curious to hear how Haven’s manages this. “We want to make sure that we’re only getting what they need and not having a lot of extra. When we do the family style, or what we call buffet, guests always want to see it full all the time. And it’s a real struggle we’ve had. And so what we’ll do now is we’ll do double each side of the table, and then, when everyone’s gone through once, we’ll collapse it to a single side. It still looks like there is a lot of food there. It just kills us because at the end, everyone is full, and then, you’re pulling off these huge trays of meat because people wanted it to look full all the time. So really changing that, and that’s one of those, our salespeople do a great job of explaining why it’s not like this. And then, we’re going to charge you less because all that food now, we don’t have to purchase. So that, again, it’s a money thing, passing the savings on to those guys.”

Haven’s Kitchen puts cauliflower leaves to good use by using them to wrap and steam fish.

Using leftovers

Nothing goes to waste in Haven’s kitchen. Leftover wine at the end of the night is made into a vinegar. Leftover bread is frozen and then turned into bread crumbs. “I got a lot of tomato sauce for an event last week. We’ll do an eggplant parmesan sandwich in the café to use it up. I feel specials are good, specials have this kind of bad connotation sometimes where it’s like, it was expired, so we’ll try to sell it as a cost thing. But for us, it really isn’t, it’s just ingrained in our menu writing and planning and all that sort of stuff.”.

“Leftover wine is made into vinegar… bread is frozen and then turned into breadcrumbs.. “


Only after Haven’s have done everything they can, do they discard of food waste into a compost bin. “What goes in our compost bin now is … egg shells, like fish bones, and chicken bones after having made a stock from it. So it’s something that we really can’t get any more out of it. And it’s been used. So we’ve used the chicken for that. We’ve used the bones for that. Now, it’s like “I’m okay with throwing that away.” At the end of the night, if it’s a larger event, and there’s so much, there’s extra food, we’ll feed our staff that food. And then, if there’s class stuff, we’ll either feed it the next day to our staff for lunch, or two of our chefs actually go to a shelter, and they’ll give it away there. .”

Zero Waste: Friendly to the bottom line

Through all the examples that David listed, I kept thinking about how much money they must be saving – not only on their waste bill – but also on their grocery bill. Not everyone is motivated to reduce food waste for the sake of the environment, but perhaps they are to motivated by saving money. “Restaurants don’t have great margins, so any little thing you can do really does help.”

Reducing food waste also presents new business opportunities. Companies like Baldor, are now making revenue out of food offcuts that would have previously been waste that they had to pay to dispose. Haven’s is now turning SparCs into another business opportunity, by using them in a new range of sauces they are selling in supermarkets.

How cities can encourage zero waste restaurants

Local government should take action to reduce food waste, and restaurants can be an important part of that strategy. So what can cities do to encourage restaurants and cafes to take up these practices?

As a first step, I’d recommend providing them with a food waste bin which is collected for free. In my experience, having worked with many restaurants over the years, getting people to separate out food waste makes them more aware of how much waste they produce. Often, small businesses can’t afford to pay for the extra food waste collection service, so this is where the city can step in and assist. There are a number of cities that are offering this to their restaurants, including San Francisco, Milan and Malmo.

Next, it’d be interesting to review the courses provided through technical colleagues for hospitality. Is reducing food waste part of the curriculum? Are the next generation of chefs, cooks and restaurant managers being taught the skills they need to cut food wastage? If not, then this is an area that can be addressed to reduce food waste, whilst helping restaurants to increase their profit margins.

Educating the community about the importance of reducing food waste is another area where cities can assist. Skills to reduce waste during food preparation and appropriate portion sizes can be taught in schools, and community centres.

Lastly, I’d encourage you to visit the food manufacturers and retailers in your city. Present the case of Baldor, and ask if they’ve looking into establishing markets for selling their offcuts.

At the end of the day, reducing food waste across the foodservice industry is a win for everyone; small business owners, food manufacturers, the environment and the community.

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