#9. Slovakian-bored Chef Vojtech Vegh has spent his career dedicated to the pursuit of zero-waste plant-based cooking, helping restaurants around the world implement tactics into their daily operations, such as focusing on reducing food when creating menus, and not on the cutting board.
In this episode, Josh and Vojtech go into detail about his background, explaining what it was like to work in professional kitchens for 12 years before opening the world’s first vegan and zero-waste restaurant in Cambodia. Vojtech discusses how he went above and beyond when it comes to sustainability, making sure all aspects of the restaurant were handmade, custom, locally sourced, and socially conscious.
He also outlines his philosophy for the "black truffle mindset," which is the idea of being as respectful to a carrot as you are to a black truffle. Vegh argues that digging deep into an ingredient is so much fun for chefs and that one can do so much with one ingredient.
*Please note that due to some technical difficulties, the audio quality of this week's episode falls short of our typical standard. We remain committed to delivering informative and engaging content to our audience and appreciate your patience and understanding as we strive to continuously improve our production.*
Where to find Vojtech Vegh:
Where to find host Josh Sharkey:
In this episode, we cover:
(1:50) Vojtech’s background
(2:18) Why he opened a vegan restaurant in Cambodia
(4:19) Is meat a luxury?
(7:56) What is zero waste?
(10:07) The challenges of going zero-waste
(13:47) How he planned for sustainability
(16:08) The black truffle mindset
(18:55) How Vojtech got deep into the world of zero waste
(23:47) Zero waste start with your menu
(27:11) Zero waste techniques for restaurants
(33:10) Why he wrote Surplus
(35:56) How to jump start waste reduction
(37:01) Who inspires Vojtech
(39:01) Food waste lightning round
Josh Sharkey [00:00:00]:
Welcome to The meez Podcast. I'm your host, Josh Sharkey, the founder and CEO of meez, the culinary operating system for food professionals. On the show, I'll be interviewing world-class entrepreneurs in the food space that are shifting the paradigm of how we innovate and operate in our industry. Thanks for listening, and I hope you enjoy the show.
My guest today is Vojtech Vegh, a Slovakian born chef dedicating his career to the pursuit of zero waste plant-based cooking. I'll be honest, I had a very different perception of how this conversation will go going into it, and I was pleasantly surprised at Vojtech’s ability to be simultaneously pragmatic while still upholding this almost maniacal approach to reducing food waste and still making really delicious food.
He's the author of the book Surplus, the Food Waste Guide for Chefs, and now he devotes his time to helping restaurants around the world implement these zero waste tactics into their daily operations. One of my favorite little tidbits from the conversation was when we dive into what he calls the “black truffle mindset.”
To Vojtech, if we treat every ingredient with the care and respect that we treat black truffles, the outcome will inevitably be less waste. I couldn't agree more, but I also think that treating every ingredient this way is how we make better, more thoughtful, less fussy, more delicious food in general. I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.
Vojtech, welcome to the pod.
Vojtech Vegh [00:01:36]:
Josh Sharkey [00:01:37]:
Good to see you, man. We haven't caught up in a while. I think maybe just to kick everybody off, there's a lot of chefs, restaurant owners, things like that, listening among other people. So maybe, if you don't mind, just give me a quick background on yourself, how you came to be and what you're doing now.
Vojtech Vegh [00:01:50]:
Basically, as a zero waste chef, I've been working in professional kitchens around the world for the past 12 years, and then I also opened my own restaurant, which happened to be the first vegan and zero waste restaurant in the world that was in Cambodia. Since then, I wrote a book Surplus, the Food Waste Guide For Chefs.
She's used by many chefs at this point. Right now I'm doing workshops, chef training, and private cooking and just spreading the word around food waste and what we can do as chefs.
That's awesome, man. I wanted to ask you, cause I think I didn't ask you before, why'd you go to Cambodia to open a restaurant?
Vojtech Vegh [00:02:23]:
I used to travel out to Southeast Asia a lot back when I was younger and I kind of fell in love with that place - Siem Reap, Cambodia where I had my restaurant. I was comparing all these countries around Southeast Asia, like what would be like a good place for the restaurant.
And then I arrived at Siem Reap and was like, oh my God, that's amazing. Like there was such a community of local business owners and there's so many initiatives about waste producing and local activities and all that. And I was like, I love that. And that would be like a perfect part of the local community, that restaurant. So I decided that like, yeah, like I want to be here and do that.
Josh Sharkey [00:02:57]
Did you use a lot of Cambodian flavors or what was like the style of the restaurant? I know it was vegan.
Voljtech Vegh [00:3:03]
I wasn't really going to do Cambodian cooking. I don't think I'm qualified to do Cambodian cooking. That is much better for a local chef. I stick to what I call modern European cooking. Local ingredients all the time, but the style of the food I say is like a central European kind of thing.
Josh Sharkey [00:3:13]:
Why vegan food? Why'd you start doing that?
Vojtech Vegh [00:3:15]:
It wasn't supposed to be vegan initially, but it always was to be zero waste. That was clear. It has to be as zero waste as possible. But vegan just happened because of the unavailability of high quality meats and other animal products in Cambodia.
It was impossible to serve anything local. Organic food is non-existent in Cambodia but something local is. So, I ended up being like okay, I can serve eggs. That was an organic egg farm in Cambodia, but then it doesn't make sense to be an otherwise vegan restaurant and only serve eggs on the menu.
But then I, and then I could serve like bugs and spiders that they eat in Cambodia, which wasn't really that much into the insect cooking kind of things. I was like, yeah, let's just make it vegan. And ever since then, I just stuck to vegan cooking. I actually love the challenge of it, like vegan, a plant-based terms in cooking. I'm not vegan myself though, like I eat a little meat here and there occasionally, but all my cooking that I do, I try to be vegan.
Josh Sharkey [00:04:19]:
Yeah. I'm going to bounce around a little bit because I was curious. I read a blog that you wrote and you said that meat is a luxury. I totally get and love that premise. I don’t eat it all the time. I don't eat meat that often at home either. My wife and I eat a lot more vegetables. But you're from Slovakia. Maybe you could talk about what you mean by meat is a luxury and then sort of reconcile that with the national dish of Slovakia, which if I'm pronouncing it right, is Bryndzové Halušky.
I made it the other night, which is really freaking delicious. It's like a potato spaetzle with bacon. It’s really good. I didn't have that cheese, but, you know, we used some, some feta. It's delicious, but the bacon was clearly a big part of it, so yeah. Maybe talk a little about what you mean by meat is a luxury and do you even eat that dish anymore?
Vojtech Vegh [00:05:12]:
Oh, when I say meat is a luxury, what I mean is that we got so used to eating meat all the time. Like we have breakfast, lunch for dinner, snacks, we eat every day. We eat meat for dinner, every meal. We go out to a restaurant, we eat meat, we eat steak. Like meat has to be part of our day and even at the coast or or even buying in the supermarket, like you are willing to buy the cheapest chicken or the cheapest beef just for the sake of having meat.
And that is where it stops making sense for me. Like you are buying literally something of such a bad quality that barely can labor us meat anymore in some cases. But still buying it and still eating it because you have to have the meat, well, I would rather buy a bunch of organic carrots and have that instead to be honest.
And what I mean by that is that like, you know how often you eat caviar or how often you buy caviar for home, it’s for a special occasion or something. I would rather limit my meat consumption to the best pieces, to the highest quality of organic when available and when I can afford it. I happily eat meat only a couple times a year or like rarely, a couple times a month for some.
If I can get my hands on a really good quality local, organic piece of a meat product. Yeah. I exchange all my other cheap meat and all the other meat bars for the good quality vegetables and, and fruits and local ingredients, and I have my meat here and there. That also means limiting the meat as part of the dishes.
Do not make the meat as the center of the dish. You know? It doesn't have to be like steak and potatoes. You can cook like a vegetable based meal and use meat in a sauce and just make the meat stock with it. You can make a little bit of meat or just a meat garnish and the rest of the dishes, vegetables.So that is also like limiting the meat, you know, like the dish doesn't have to be all about the meat.
To be honest, I never thought about that - Bryndzové Halušky. That’s never come up in conversation, but that's a good one. Because I thought about it and I think it's actually a good example of what I just described, because the bacon by volume is not a big part of the dish.
And actually, no, no, to be honest, the Bryndzové Halušky is the most common vegetarian dish on the menus. In the restaurant oftentimes is the only vegetarian dish that you're gonna find in the restaurant because the bacon is replaced by fried onions. Yeah. So they just do the cheap cheese and fried onions and sometimes some sauerkraut. And that’s it. That is actually like very commonly vegetarian dish
Josh Sharkey [00:07:36]:
Oh, that makes sense. Yeah. And I bet if you like smoked the onions, then you get that smokey flavor like Bacon too. And by the way, I, it was sort of a fun little teaser for you because I agree we shouldn't be eating meat all the time and it should be for special occasions, but there are things that just taste more delicious.
And I'm sure in Slovakia, they're probably not getting the highest quality organic bacon all the time for that dish at home. I get the premise. Let's circle back. Most of what I want to talk about today is zero waste. I think that's why I wanted to have the other pod to talk about that. And so maybe just to get started, can you just define what zero waste means?
Vojtech Vegh [00:08:15]:
Well, zero waste in terms of food, zero food waste, is any part of the ingredient that is edible. So for example, when you say food waste in a restaurant, for example, is pineapple tops. Is it really food waste? It's not food waste from my point of view, from my work that I do, because there is nothing that you can do with the pineapple tops.
It will always be wasted. And onion skins or garlic skins, very low nutritional value. Very low amount by volume, very hard to recycle. That is not something that I would consider a value of the food waste cause there is not much that you can do with it. It's not really worth eating. But then there are things like excessive trimmings or potato peels and etcetera that are fully edible, more nutritious than the main part of the ingredient, yet are still commonly wasted.
It doesn’t only apply to vegetables. That also applies to meat. Like all the fatty parts of the meat that are trimmed and never even rendered for fat, only discarded and wasted, that is completely edible, that part of the animal. So that is food waste. What's not food waste for me is anything that doesn't have any nutritional value and is not edible at all.
Mostly likes and pieces of tropical ingredients. You know, like mango skin is not edible, and you're never going to eat pineapple skin. You can extract the flavor from. Eventually it will always end up in the compost.
Josh Sharkey [00:09:40]:
Yeah, absolutely. So I completely agree. I think I heard you mention that in your restaurant you were trying to not have a waste bin. Is that correct?
Vojtech Vegh [00:09:50]:
I didn't even have it for a long time. I opened the restaurant without the bin, without any bin at all, with no compost, nothing. That's how I opened the restaurant.
Josh Sharkey [00:09:57]:
How did you go about that? It sounds like you were trying to work with all your purveyors to make sure that whatever they were delivering were things that you didn't have to throw in the trash.
Vojtech Vegh [00:10:05]:
Yeah. It took a lot of planning. To be honest, I almost drew myself crazy. It came to the point where I had a compost bin in the garden. I wasn't willing to compromise. The pineapple is a good example because there are lots of pineapples in Cambodia. So the choice that I had to make was like either I'm not going to use pineapple because it has inedible parts that I don’t know what to do with, or I will use pineapple and I will just get over myself and have a bin in my garden.
So it seems more sensible that I'm not hurting anything anymore with having the compost in my garden, discarding inedible parts of the produce. So then I had that. I still did not have a bin for other waste though.
Josh Sharkey [00:09:57]:
What did you do with the boxes and things that came in and the containers from spices?
Vojtech Vegh [00:10:55]:
There were no boxes, there was no spices, there was nothing. It was either made from scratch or I didn't have that.
Josh Sharkey [00:10:58]:
Well, how did, what about sugar? How did you get sugar?
Vojtech Vegh [00:10:59]:
I didn't use sugar.
Josh Sharkey [00:11:00]:
What about salt?
Vojtech Vegh [00:11:02]:
Salt was in a paper box. So we went to compost. So anything in cardboard. There certainly were incidentals or unexpected because waste will always happen at one point. It will creep up on you. There were cases where I ordered the bag of flour because the flour came in a paper bag. Well, but when they delivered it, it was like double grabbed in clean film and then in a plastic bag.
So I'm like, okay, there we go. Then it happened very rarely, but when it did, I just took the waste home to my apartment with me, and then it just went to the general waste from there. There wasn't anything else, or in the cases when I guests leave behind plastic bottles at the table. Yeah. It was like, okay, like it happened now, whatever. I have to do something with it. But otherwise there wasn't anything I really made sure took a great get off the fight. There wasn't anything, any container, nothing coming into the restaurant that I had no place for.
Josh Sharkey [00:12:03]:
Yeah. And so, I mean, I have a million questions about this. Oil. How did you get oil into the restaurant or whatever fat you're cooking with?
Vojtech Vegh [00:12:03]:
Oil was in the glass bottles and the glass bottles were collected in the local company that were all crushed basically. Got it. Okay. So by no means was that easy, and by no means I recommend or say that that is possible at any part of the world for anyone in the restaurant. That is, I have certainly gone as far as I could.
Just also for challenging myself, and I can tell you that Cambodia wasn't the best place to do that since there is a big plastic obsession in Asia. So like they love plastic and everything and everywhere. I had to make lots of compromises in terms of not having products, or having to change dishes or like having to live for different purveyors after the two that were in the town. You know, like they're very, very extremely limited.
Josh Sharkey [00:12:49]:
Yeah, absolutely. Well, I'm kind of just pushing your buttons a bit to understand how far you go with zero waste, but think what I love about your approach, and I want to talk about the book as well, because it's an incredible book called Surplus.
But you create a lot of challenges for yourself that some might consider unnecessary. You opened a restaurant in Cambodia that was vegan where you tried to have absolutely no trash in your entire restaurant. And restaurants are already incredibly hard. And so you created this box around what you do, which I have an affinity for also.
The more that we create sort of parameters, it actually allows us to be more creative, because we have this box around us. So were you intentional in thinking about creating these challenges for yourself or was that just sort of like organically happening because of the situation you were in?
Vojtech Vegh [00:13:47]:
That was all carefully planned over like a two year period for the restaurant. So I spent time in Cambodia and pre-opening, I was still flying back and forth to Europe from Cambodia. I still had a full-time job in England at one point when I was flying back to Cambodia. I just wanted to make sure to find all the distributors and I recall the restaurant as being on the experimental side.
There's certainly not something that I'm saying that everyone can do that anywhere in the world. I also went for everything, not only handmade, but even custom. And only looking for companies that are supporting the local communities, ideally locally owned or being socially conscious and doing as good as possible, including furniture.
The staff t-shirt, they are all made from upcycled fabric that is from the larger industries in a capital that they're making the cheap dishes. So this is all the fabric that is being collected and remade in dishes. And like handmade design, aprons locally upcycled all the furniture in the entire restaurant, and no chemicals whatsoever like handmade, like coconut based soaps and detergents.
And the list goes on and on and like banana papers and upcycled banana trees. And even when I was, uh, because we were renovating the restaurant, so even like all the building ways that we collected from the restaurant eventually ended up building a road in a village from it. I tried to get in touch with as many people as possible, make as many connections as possible to find as many products as possible in Cambodia and use only, like pick the best of it and use that in the restaurant.
But that part was mostly successful because there are lots of these initiatives as small companies that are doing these good, locally handmade things. So I love Cambodia. I don't think I could replicate the same thing as in all terms in Slovakia.
Josh Sharkey [00:15:32]:
Well, I mean, look, I think what's so commendable about what you did and, and what you're still doing is, you know, obviously you're making a lot of sacrifices to help the industry. You sort of went 10 kilometers so that most of the industry can go a meter, right? So I think you clearly went way above and beyond what anybody probably could do in general in terms of sustainability and mitigating waste and things, but I think you showed that I'm going go 10 kilometers, so that when you're just doing one small thing, it feels very, very tiny compared to what what you're doing.
That's big. I wanted to sort of chat about this really cool premise that you talked about. It's funny because you talk about it through the lens of waste, you call the black truffle mindset. And I think we can talk about what, what it means and essentially the idea of being as respectful to a carrot as you are to a black truffle, and you sort of talk about it through the lens of waste, which I think is really awesome.
But I think it's also just an incredible sort of way to think about cooking in general, right? Because we tend to overcomplicate food a lot as chefs when we're cooking. Some of that is narcissistic. Some of it is just over complicating because we're not executing really well on one small thing. But digging deep into an ingredient is for a lot of chefs, so much fun, right?
And you can dissect, you can just take fennel for example, and I wanna confit it and I'll make some fennel oil with the tops and I'll juice some of it and maybe I'll sort of glaze something in that, or I'll burn some of the fennel tops and make a dust or something. Can obviously use some raw and all these ways that I can use fennel.
Yes, that is reducing waste. But also I think it's just a much better way of, and a more enjoyable way of cooking. Right, because one, you can do so much with one ingredient and really dive deep into it and have a lot of fun and, and find all the ways in which that thing is versatile. And two, so many ingredients are that way.
I think fennel always comes to mind because there's so much you can do with it, but there's tons. But you talk about this black truffle mindset through the lens of waste. So I'd love to hear your thoughts. You wrote a blog post on it, but maybe just sort of double click on it.
Vojtech Vegh [00:17:35]:
When you get black truffle in your kitchen, what do you do with it? You handle it carefully because obviously it's expensive. Then you're going to store it in perfect conditions to make sure it lasts long, the quality is the best, and store it in the right container. You have a special place and you’re careful around it. And be very mindful of how you use it.
And then it comes when you like to start shaving it on a plate or something. Then you like to pick up all the crumbs, make sure the oil is on a plate, nothing's left.. And like if there is any crumble, any broken pieces, then it goes into the source, goes into the oil, it goes somewhere. So zero waste is a mindset.
You have it. You know how to do it with one ingredient. Now, okay, there can be an argument, but the black truffle is very expensive, more expensive than the carrot. For example, what should I do with carrots? Well, so a bunch of organic carrots, whatever the cost is, versus two crumbles of black truffle could be offered with the same.
You know now how many carrots you go to in the kitchen and how many black truffles do you go to in the kitchen? In terms of volume, in terms of weight, you are like extensive trimming of the carrot and all the carrot peelings and I don’t know, like oh bit gone off or a little bit is moldy or something that now you're wasting all this high quality good carrot going the while you are very mindful about your now financial wise, you are roughly wasting the same amount.
Then would you ever like to put in a bin, a piece of a black truffle because it was left in your hand and now we don’t know what to do except chuck it in a bin? But I mean, no one does that.
Josh Sharkey [00:18:55]:
Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. I love it. And, I hadn't ever thought of it through the lens of waste. And obviously that's a great way for you to sort of help people understand how to think about waste. But certainly even just through the lens of good cooking, you know, I think it makes a ton of sense. So, you know, I didn't have to ask, you're clearly deep into this world of trying to reduce waste and be sustainable. And now you're teaching others and you're consulting. And how and why did you get so deep into this path of trying to reduce waste? Where does that come from?
I had an idea of opening a restaurant with a food waste lens. I looked at the food right now and I was like, okay, if I open a restaurant, it must be zero waste. So I did that when I opened the restaurant and I think like, damn, like that works. And it's like so financially viable, like so much.
And it makes so much sense to use like 100% or like 95% of all the ingredients. That to me it was like this discovery, like, oh my God. Like I have to tell everyone. How do we not do that as a standard, how are we wasting so much food? I've seen crazy stuff, like a hundred kilos of eligible food in a bin being carried out in the general bin at the end of the night from the restaurant.
Now that's like $500 a night or something. Why would you do that and why would you waste so much food? Like there is so much food waste happens throughout the entire chain of the food system. And we as chefs have so much authority and so much say in that we can lead because we are connected also to the consumers, to the people who come to a restaurant who eat our food, and also the ones that grow our food to the farmers and distributors.
So we can influence both sides. And then it just always made me wonder like, why is not everyone doing that? You don't have to go completely mental with food waste like I did in Cambodia, like absolutely everything has to be done, but even if you would only do like 50% reduction, it's so significant. It's such a big change that you can do.
And to me it is just like this, it doesn't make sense because the waste happens in every industry, basically. Like everyone wastes something and. And that's why we are now looking at this circular economy and other things. Another example that I would tell you, like if you run into an Apple shop, then are you gonna throw away like three or three iPhones at the end of the day because like, yeah, whatever. I couldn't sell this or put them in a bin. You know, like that's the product that you're selling that brings you the profit, is the food, is the product that you're selling and brings you the profit?
Josh Sharkey [00:21:36]:
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So the genesis of you getting into this sounds like it was really just you realized that there was a huge cost savings and you just sort of dug really deep in from there.
Vojtech Vegh [00:22:50]:
I just question everything. When I was looking at the bin, you just see chefs peeling carrots and trimming the leaks and trimming away like 10 centimeters. That's no reason at the end, extra five centimeters, now like copy paste, and repeat that on the 10 kilo crate of leeks and we have like two kilo of perfectly nice leeks in a bin for absolutely no reason whatsoever.
Or here's a puree left in my bowl because I'm scraping a metal spoon, so it doesn't count. So why don't you use the silicon material, you know? You don't do it one time, it's not one bowl it's not one occasion. You repeat that throughout the day, every day in your operation. Now how much money is that at the end of the year?
Josh Sharkey [00:23:15]:
Absolutely. And I mean, my biggest pet peeve is when people cut the scallions and they leave like that half inch or quarter inch of the white left, and I'm like, you know, what are you doing? You know, you have a hundred cases of scallions a year, you just threw out four cases of scallions. So I totally get that premise and I'm so stoked that you are helping more and more people understand this and get the word out. I've seen you go real deep with this though, in terms of things that you do to reduce waste.
And I want to talk about some of the techniques that you use and how you've sort of repurposed food that we might not think of being able to repurpose. But you know, when we're doing the math, right, let's just say the average restaurant. In America, maybe it does a million dollars a year in revenue. And let's just say that they spend $300,000 on food, right?
10% of that gets wasted, right? So that's $30,000 a year that they're wasting. I'm curious how you think about the labor cost outside of, you know, just making sure that you're doing things properly, right? Like not cutting off the last half inch of the scallions and making sure you're using all the leeks, but when you start to repurpose things and that takes labor dollars, right? To then go and make those extra things probably takes specific types of cuisine to use some of the ways in which you repurpose them because you do a lot of consulting. What do you think about the labor dollars related to that? Let's just say that you were gonna waste $30,000 in food, but one employee may cost you $50,000 for the year. How do you think about balancing the two of those things?
Vojtech Vegh [00:24:44]:
There is no labor cost for food waste reduction. The problem with that approach is that currently the industry has with the approach to food waste is that everyone thinks in terms of food waste, like something that you have to reduce once it happens.
Now that is the problem. That is when there is labor cost because if our sous chef or chef de partie is in charge of reducing the food waste because oh my god, now I trim something or if I don't or can’t, then it's a problem. There is extra time and extra work for the food waste.
It doesn't happen when it's on your chopping board. The food waste happens when the menu is being written. That's when you create food waste. When you write the menu and I don’t know, leeks, carrots, something comes up, you already know how you're going to process that ingredient in your menu and what the byproduct will be.
You have to incorporate that byproduct in a circular way back, either into the same dish, in the same menu, or in a different outlet, different restaurant. But the waste of the byproduct has to find its place. When you're writing the menu, it is not the responsibility of the chef de parties or the line cooks to upcycle your items.
And at that point when the upcycled item or whatever new item that you're doing becomes an essential part of your dish on the menu, there is not any extra work anymore because you need it. Like whether you're going to make pickled cucumbers, or you're going to replace the pickle cucumbers with pickled cauliflower leaves, maybe.
Because if you're doing a sandwich, then maybe you can do that. That's just an example. Then you don't have to do the pickled cucumbers anymore. You'll be picking cauliflower, which takes the same amount of time and the same amount of work than doing the cucumber, for example. And that is something that most of that can be replicated.
So doing new items or extra items is never a good approach because then you might end up building a huge ladder that you're never going to use and you’ve just got to throw out six months later again. So you have to know what you're going to do with that waste product at the moment that you are creating that waste.
It has to go somewhere, sensibly. Ideally at the place where you can sell it with a margin. So on a customer's plate, because, okay, like staff food is great because there is still some cost associated with staff food. So if you can feed it to staff, there is still a win. But the number one solution, or the number one ambition should always be to put it on the consumer's plate.The majority of my work is to basically reduce the food waste when you create a dish.
Josh Sharkey [00:27:11]:
You know that's really interesting. I think we both come from the same world of fine dining and I've also sort of been in the fast casual world and scaled restaurants, things of that. And I think this makes a ton of sense in fine dining, but how do you sort of apply this to some of the more simpler concepts?
But it's a really interesting premise you just said where you might just be changing the paradigm of how you think about what goes on that sandwich, for example, and maybe we're not putting pickled cucumbers anymore. We're just not using cucumbers because we already use cauliflower and we pickle the leaves instead.
And to your point, it's the same amount of work and now just at a different ingredient. I really love that. I didn't really get that from the surface level thinking through your methodologies, that's really interesting. That sounds like that must be a big part of how you're consulting with these kitchens as well just thinking through the menu.
Vojtech Vegh [00:27:59]:
The funny thing is I don't find fine dining clients. Usually those restaurants know how to do it. 99% of my clients are all casual, large scale, and very simplistic food concepts, et cetera.
Josh Sharkey [00:28:07]:
It makes a lot of sense and I think I had a misconception going into this about how you were approaching this. Maybe could you talk a bit about some of those things that you do, some of that repurposing that you do? You mentioned cauliflower leaves, right? So maybe like there's a sandwich where there's some ham for people that eat meat and it used to be pickle cucumbers and now it's pickled cauliflower. But what are some of the other sort of tactics that you use that have worked well for some of these restaurants?
Vojtech Vegh [00:28:37]:
Number one, and it still surprises me after all the years that I've been doing this, is the amount of trimmings that chefs trim the produce. It's still surprising me. Like why do we trim such a huge amount of the ingredients and the vegetables? So it's almost like trim less is one of the things, and then peel less. There are so many things that you don't need to peel, mostly root vegetables don't need to peel, depending on the use. There are some cases that you have to simply, but there are so many cases where you don't have to peel the vegetables.
Josh Sharkey [00:28:51]:
What's an example there?
Vojtech Vegh [00:28:51]:
Roasted Carrots. If you're graded carrots, you can just grade it with a skin. And potatoes, basically. If you do anything else but puree potatoes, then just leave the skin on as well and just work it into it. Peeling it doesn't matter. The potato peel is like three times tastier than the potato itself. I regularly eat potato peels at home. We all love it.
Then there are a lot of stalks and these leaves, like cauliflower stalks or broccoli stalks. Sometimes you look at the broccoli like, what percent is the florants and what percentage is the stalk? So like there you go, like broccoli stalk cole slaw, that's as simple as it gets.
There is nothing special about that. Just throw it in, put it in a grater, and then now we have a broccoli cole slaw. Just use it in the same way, like you use cabbage.
Josh Sharkey [00:29:59]:
One thing that's apparent when thinking about that approach is you have to have pretty impeccably fresh ingredients to do that as well, right? Like broccoli, I love the broccoli stems. It took my wife three years for her to start eating the broccoli stems. I would make it and she would take those out and only eat the florants. But finally, if she does, but if you have broccoli that's not fresh, that is a really woody stem, like pretty much inedible and you gotta kind of trim off a bunch of it because it's just like eating wood. Same thing with asparagus and things like that. So I imagine part of what you're doing with these restaurants is just helping them source better because you can't use commodity asparagus or broccoli and achieve this.
Vojtech Vegh [00:30:22]:
I always say that zero waste is always about maximizing the flavor and the quality and not the other way around. You should never compromise the quality, the flavor, and the safety for sake of waste. So obviously when you have yellow cauliflower leaves. You're not even trying to save that. Why would you feed or eat anyone yellow, cauliflower, or these ugly black broccoli stems, but then you can tell that there is something wrong with that broccoli already if it's gone and it’s probably not a good idea to use it anyway.
Never use anything that you don't feel safe about or doesn't really look good. Sometimes I get those ugly potatoes that are all beaten up and black, so I mean, you're not gonna use those peels. It's okay. Like there's always gonna be some waste and it always, you need to think about how you're prioritizing the flavor and the quality and the safety.
You know you are feeding the public. So it's never for the sake of those other things. Like in the first place, what we cook has to be delicious because otherwise there is no point that if I present you with a zero waste dish that doesn't taste good, then that is not helping.
Josh Sharkey [00:31:37]:
I'd love to hear maybe an example of a dish you helped one of your clients, something that we're used to eating that you changed by using this process.
It's not so much about changing a particular dish, it's more about looking at the byproduct of the dish and where the byproduct can go. Let's just go back to the cauliflower because it's a good example and it has a large amount of waste by default. Basically you make a cauliflower gratin, but you are not utilizing the cauliflower leaves because you don’t use them.
It’s actually like 40% of the weight on the cauliflower, the leaves go to the bin, but you are doing. Call it side salad. Well, it was a self-help restaurant, you know. So there was a croissant, there was salads, and there was like a couple other items and other stuff.
So now the restaurant was buying white cabbage and lettuce and other ingredients to make salad with it. Now the cabbage wasn't used anywhere else, only for that salad. And they were wasting the cauliflower leaves So that was obvious in the first minute for me. Like that is something that you can change right away on the spot.
Like from tomorrow, the cabbage doesn't need to be ordered. You can just go with the cauliflower leaves because you have more than enough leaves to change the cabbage in the salad. These are the things that you can change on the spot. Basically, there is not much thinking that has to go on because it's like so simple making crumbles or like crumble for a dish for a topping.
You order the ingredients for that, like seeds and nuts and then you blend it and then you toast it, roast it, so you have this like the nutty crumble or something to sprinkle something. Or you can take potato peels, roast them with spices and blend them down. And then you have the same crumble if, if not even better tasting. Those are these immediate fixes.
Why don't we talk about your book for a little bit, because that's obviously a lot of what we're talking about here is in the book. When did it publish and what do you hope the people get out of this book? I'd love to just hear your thoughts on how it's been since you published it.
The book's been out since 2021, February. It's actually been two years now. I expected like two sales. My girlfriend and my mom will buy it. We had very, very, very good sales for me being completely unknown. New author, first book, independently published without any publisher. We sold thousands of copies as of now, and companies buy it in bulk and distribute it for the chefs and their clients. That is kind of the goal of the book.
To make sure that it gets them into the hand for the chefs and to as many as possible. And it's a perfect way when a company distributes it to day staff for their shifts because it comes from their authority, their seniors, and it gets to the hand. So that is the end goal of the book. The book can only have so many pages, like having a thousand pages.
That is definitely not everything in the book. The book is like the starting point to have this kinda open mind and like to change the mindset and to offer a different view. Things can be done differently. It's not about giving you a complete solution and telling you everything about that, but it's about opening the mind, like the first point of access to food waste reduction.
Josh Sharkey [00:34:29]
We’re going to be giving some to my team as well. Good. It's a really great book. Are you thinking about another book?
Vojtech Vegh [00:34:41]
Thinking is the correct word.
Josh Sharkey [00:34:43]
What do you think about the viability of this zero waste approach becoming ubiquitous in the food industry?
Vojtech Vegh [00:34:47]:
They will have to at one point. If you're wasting food, then you go bankrupt. Like you're doing business and you're wasting the main product that you're selling, so you go bankrupt. There is no reason to cry for that. You have to adapt.
I mean, look at the world that we are in, at the industry. What is everyone doing? The food waste trend is so huge, and I don't dare to call it a trend because I hope it's not a trend, that it's something that will become a standard, which is the intention of my work to make it something normal. So we don't have to call it like, oh, this is a zero waste restaurant, because there won't be a reason to mention that or highlight that point because everyone would be kind of zero waste like having this waste reduction initiatives. That is something where I would like to see that.
Well, there's only one Vojtech and you can only be in so many places. How do you recommend people start working on this if, if they're not working with you, especially, it sounds like you're, you're working with a lot of sort of like casual restaurants and I think this is probably a huge value prop for them. How can they get started if they don't have access to you? Obviously reading the book is one way. Is there anything else that you recommend? And also is there infrastructure or things that you think are good ways to start?
Voytech Vegh [00:35:56]:
There is no one size fits all solution, so what I recommend in one restaurant will most likely not work for the next one. So my book is always a good place to start, but in general is having that mindset of questioning everything. Like, do I really have to do things the way I'm doing it? Do I really have to process the way I'm doing it? Like, can I really not do that? There is so much that goes down to planning, though. It's really about focusing on the planning, like, you know, 80% planning, 20% executing.
Basically it's all about the mise en place you do in the kitchen, and it's especially the responsibility of the executive chefs or whoever is in charge of creating the dishes and the menus. So you should never blame your shared chef de partie for creating waste because it is the responsibility of the person who wrote the dish.
You know, the cauliflower didn't decide that the wastes were going to be, that the leaves were going to be wasted. The chef de partie didn’t decide the leaves were going to be wasted. It's the person who put the cauliflower on the menu and didn't utilize the leaves. That person decided that leaves are going to be wasted. So yeah, you have to look at the right base of like who's sitting in, who's writing those dishes on the menu. And that's what the person has to think about
Josh Sharkey [00:37:01]
Yeah, it's certainly a mindset shift. Are there chefs that you see that are doing this really well or just generally any mentors or people that inspire you in the industry?
Vojtech Vegh [00:37:01]:
A lot. Douglas McMaster Silo in London. The first zero waste restaurant in the world. I spent a month working with them, but when they were still in Brighton. That was a huge push and a huge eye opening experience for me and I'm sure for everyone else. I dined with them the other day in London too. Adam Handling also in London. Very nice zero waste one Michelin Star restaurant. I love that kind of food because it doesn't scream zero waste at the first site.
You don't see that, and it's just so beautiful and pretty. What goes on behind the scenes is like less and zero waste done. And I'm sure that there are so many others that come to my mind. Matthew Orlando just NOMA Copenhagen is a zero waste initiative there for sure.
Josh Sharkey [00:37:59]
Cool. Thanks for sharing those. I ask this question of myself and I've been asking it to guests. You know, if there was no construct of time and you had unlimited resources, meaning something that you did that might take a hundred years, you could do in a day, and if it took a hundred million dollars, you could still do it, what would you do next?
Vojtech Vegh [00:38:15]:
I used almost exactly the same words the other day when I was speaking to my partner that if I would have an only amount of time that this is what I would do. Now, I can't say what I said because it's a potential business idea for next, but it's like the next thing. But what I would certainly do is I would love to have a bunch of restaurants around the world, in different cities and to bring that into the local communities. So like opening a cluster of restaurants here and there and being really community focused, places that help the local communities, uses local products, supports all local initiatives while being profitable because we are not wasting any food and like, you know, like all these good, good, good win win win kind of things. That ticks all the boxes. That is certainly one of the things that I would go for.
Josh Sharkey [00:39:01]:
Very cool man. Okay, we're gonna wrap up here, but I think you saw, I want to do a little food challenge with you, although after speaking with you, I'm only going to do a few of these. Are you up for it?
Vojtech Vegh [00:39:14]:
Yep. Tell me.
Josh Sharkey [00:39:16]:
Okay, cool. I'm going to list a couple things, you know, ingredients or sort of byproducts and I want you to come up with some innovative, sort of delicious ways that you would use these up. And the curve ball being that we can't create any standalone powders. Or chips or purees, you could turn them into a dish, but we won't say like, oh, I'll make a powder out of the skin.
And I think I'm not going to use, well, I'll say it, this one now that we've spoken, I think this might be a bad example, but the leftover vegetables from a brine, like from like brining, you know a ham or turkey or something.
We always put those vegetables under the ham, on the turkey when baking it. So if you take all those vegetables, you put it in a tray and then you put your meat on it, and then you make the demi-glace from the sauce and vegetables out of the bottom of the tray.
Josh Sharkey [00:39:59]:
How about the vegetables from like a stock or if you're making something like a mushroom stock or something?
Vojtech Vegh [00:40:11]:
Blend it down. Put it fresh, add some spicy seeds, some mustard seed, add agargar or some gelatin and you have a great pate.
Josh Sharkey [00:40:16]:
The dark, dark, dark green of a leek.
Vojtech Vegh [00:40:18]:
Most likely can be used at the same place, but the other part of the liquid was used if not made for a beautiful oil. And to take it a step further, you can charcoal those green tops and then make oil from it.
Josh Sharkey [00:40:35]:
Yeah. Nice. I like that. Okay. The whey from feta?
Vojtech Vegh [00:40:35]:
I would probably use it for brining other vegetables.The other day, I made brined lettuce in a sauerkraut juice. So I could probably blow up the same thing with the feta, the brine or like, you know, like brine vegetables and like that. So maybe that thing should be active, and should have active bacteria in it.So then if it does, then you can for starting the ferments or fermenting, which doubles in that brine.
Josh Sharkey [00:40:56]:
I like it. All right. We're going to stop there. That was awesome. Great man. Well, Vojtech, this was great, man. I'm glad we could catch up and congrats on all the success and thank you for doing what you do to help the industry learn more about wasting less, and I hope you continue doing what you do. So thank you.
Vojtech Vegh [00:41:20]:
Thanks a lot for having me.
Josh Sharkey [00:41:30]:
Thanks for tuning into The meez Podcast. The music from the show is a remix of the Song Art Mirror by an old friend, hip hop artist, Fresh Daily. For show notes and more, visit www.getmeez.com/podcast. That's G E T M E E Z dot com forward slash podcast. If you enjoyed the show, I'd love it if you can share it with your fellow entrepreneurs and culinary pros and give us a five star rating wherever you listen to your podcasts.
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