Bins are where the profits lay!

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celebrity chef Brian Turner CBE talks to My Zero Waste

celebrity chef Brian Turner CBE talks to My Zero Waste

As a boy growing up after the last world war, celebrity chef Brian Turner CBE, understands the value of food. As a champion of British food and supporter of National Zero Waste Week, he is passionate about honest, tasty food combining modern cooking methods with traditional recipes. His greatest personal achievement was achieving his CBE for his services to tourism and training in the catering industry, but despite this pretigious recognition, Brian has not lost sight of his culinary roots, nor of the part his Grandma and parents played in shaping his attitude towards food.

Brian views food as an asset, promotes a ‘compost while you cook’ approach and encourages us to use our fridges and freezer as tools for minimising food waste.

In a time where food is undervalued and has almost become a disposable commodity in some parts of the world, National Zero Waste Week along with Brian’s insight and wisdom, gives us the opportunity to bring back some traditional values, save money, reduce waste and get the most from our food. I was fortunate enough to spend half an hour with Brian, asking him a few questions about his thoughts on food waste:

I’ve been reading your books and many of them have an emphasis on great British food. Where does your love of British food come from?

I was born after the last world war where life was very much controlled by what you could and couldn’t get to eat. All the food we had was either grown or reared locally and whatever we bought we had to use. Our family was not rich, there were 4 children and we grew up with my Grandma’s recipes and learned the art of getting everything we could from our food.

It sounds like a close family unit with you all eating together – what one dish embodies your childhood?

Cheese and potato pie. This was nothing fancy, it was literally mashed potato with local cheese on top and it tasted wonderful. There are, of course, many variations on this now – some with other vegetables in the bottom and other additions, but for me it was simple and honest food which tasted great.

How did growing up during a time of rations influence you and your family’s attitudes towards food?

There were fewer choices so we either ate our meal or we didn’t; there was nothing else. I was fortunate that both my Mother and Father were good cooks and my Dad made sure there was always enough to eat; it was tasty too. On a Sunday, for example, we would have roast beef with plenty of vegetables, in the evening we would enjoy the leftovers as a fry up, and the remaining beef would be made into a meal with some sort of crust – either mashed potato, pastry or mixed vegetables.

I also grew up on bread and dripping. Far from being ‘food for the poor’, it was very tasty. You could almost call it a precursor of marmite, but it’s real and had all the nutrients in it!

We didn’t have enough money to throw any food away and so food waste wasn’t an issue. There wasn’t the option of going to the freezer and pulling out a microwave meal and food waste was simply not part of our culture.

What is the attitude towards food waste in the catering industry?

I remember training with a French chef called Louis Virot. Every day before lunch he would walk around the kitchen and check everything was in order. I remember vividly his pristine clothes. He wore his perfectly clean whites, his tall hat and shoes that were polished. He would walk over to the bin and you knew what was coming next: he would kick it over and rummage through the contents with his immaculately polished shoe and would create such a fuss if something was in there that could have been used. He would ask us why we were throwing his money away and remind us that bins are where his profits lay!

As you’re aware, zero waste week this year is focusing on food waste. You’re passionate about training in the catering industry – what tips do you have for green chefs who want to make food waste a thing of the past?

I would simply get everyone in the kitchen to ask “Does this HAVE to be thrown away?”. I’m currently working in Derbyshire where we have developed a ‘compost while you cook’ attitude. Nothing is wasted; all the food that is not utilised in the kitchen gets put to one side in containers and at the end of the shift we go out and fork it into the soil, straight back into nature. This means we no longer have to buy compost. It’s not always easy to separate food waste in a busy kitchen I know, but you will find windows of opportunity throughout the day when you can quickly go through things and sort them.

We also use the fridge and freezer well. If we only need the flesh of tomatoes, for example, we’ll store the skin and pips in the ‘fridge until we need to make stock. If we have seasonal strawberries and don’t need them all, they get frozen and made into puree, sauces or icecream later on. Likewise, when we skin and bone smoked haddock, the skin and bones are wrapped in the freezer and they make the most amazing stock with a fantastic flavour.

In kitchens that operate efficiently from a taste and cost point of view there is little need for food waste but this discipline has to come from the top. We have paid for all the ingredients so we need to get the most from them and not allow them to go off or be wasted.

So it seems you’re saying that the freezer can become one of our best friends in helping prevent food waste?

I’m not sure I would go that far, but certainly if a freezer is used correctly it is a great tool. There is little point, for example, in badly labelling things, forgetting they are in the freezer and then having to throw them away because then you have wasted the energy to store them too. I remember working with one chef, Eric Scamman, and the first thing we did every morning was to take everything out of the fridge, relabel and date it if necessary, rotate and take an inventory. It took ages but it meant we were able to correctly utilise the assets we had stored.

We did the same with the freezer, and a freezer used correctly means you can buy tasty, seasonal produce and store it for later in the year which means you can enjoy the tastiest food all year round.

Talking of tasty food, some of the things I read about meals during ration time is that people had enough to eat, but that it was monotonous. If you had to choose half a dozen things to ‘pep up’ meals, what would they be?

I’m a great fan of garlic, honey and vinegar; not just for their great flavours but as great health alternatives too. I would also add fresh parsley, chilli and salt.

Do you have a favourite ‘zero waste meal’ to share with our readers?

I’m a great fan of mince and tatties in any shape or form. So dishes like shepherds pie, cottage pie, lasagne or stews where you use minced meat, vegetables and potatoes in various ways is something I never grow tired of.

Finally, what tips do you have for the participants of Zero Waste Week to help them reduce their food waste.

I’d ask them to remember “compost while you cook” – things like peelings, tea bags, egg shells and even the cardboard eggboxes will break down and whatever size garden you have, you can make use of this free compost. Regardless of the size of garden or your time commitment, use your home made compost even if it’s in a windowbox to grow herbs.

I think there is a lot of confusion about Best Before date labels too. We never had those when I was growing up, so remember to use your sense of smell, sight and taste to check if things are ok before just assuming they are bad and throwing them away.

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Don’t forget – there are prizes to be won this week. Sign up on our zero waste week page, pledge to reduce your food waste then come back during the week and tell us how you are getting on. One winner will get a £50 voucher from LUSH and another will get a £50 from Natural Collection.

Tomorrow I’ll be sharing my food waste hacks to ensure you never waste food again, and you’ll discover what we ate today, sans waste of course…

National Zero Waste Week is sponsored by Tetra Pak. Special layers in long life cartons protect the goodness of your product right until you need it, helping to save food waste. It does this without the need for energy intensive refrigeration or preservatives and is recyclable too!

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About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth’s fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

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