Wasted: one man’s waste is another man’s fuel // 16 May 2011

My Evening Standard blog today:

Having grown up with my grandma’s wartime stories and borderline obsessive dedication to the ‘waste not, want not’ school of domesticity, I am not one to quibble about ingredient thrift. So, trend-driven as it may be, I see nothing wrong with Wasted’s wholesome philosophy: a dining experiment, reinventing and serving foods that would otherwise be given the heave-ho.

You can only assume, then, that the utterer of “all things are cheap to the saving, dear to the wasteful”, Benjamin Franklin, would have jolly well approved of Wasted, too. But alas, Franklin and I are in the minority – especially in Sydney, where GFC-related stinginess hasn’t encroached on meat-heavy, offal-light menus (not much ox-tail, pork belly and the like around here).

Menus So it was with no small amount of intrigue that I headed to Wasted, housed for three days only in a tiny modified café, complete with movie projections, old wool bags, brown paper and tealights. What are a young British chef and a savvy Aussie attempting by serving the rubbishy parts of animals and vegetables to spoilt Sydneysiders?

To straighten things out from the get-go: no, the meal wasn’t cooked from the fruits of dumpster-diving missions. In fact, a lot of it was very hard to procure – very hard indeed, thanks to the Australian fixation on legislation and squeamish fear of anything that isn’t pure, bright muscle.

The self-deprecating boy from Shoreditch, Dougie McMaster – winner of the BBC’s Young Chef of the Year gong in 2009 – is hailed as nose-to-tail-eating pin-up Fergus Henderson’s protégé and it’s safe to say the guy knows a thing or two about the insides of a sheep, cow or pig. But St John in Farringdon is a long way from Sydney’s sensibilities and it turns out that blood is nigh-on impossible to find here. It took Dougie nearly a month to find a supplier where it would have taken a phonecall in London and, likewise, he found it hard buying brains and chicken hearts*. No wonder he told me “it was the hardest menu to practice.”

There’s an irony in the rarity of these bits and pieces, but where Dougie and his team of chefs – all “best mates” from Melbourne – struggled against local flows, hard work, effort and imagination won on the night. It was a memorable meal not for perfect seasoning or other-worldly presentation (although they were both good) but for the format’s laid-back honesty and originality. Not bad, considering the menu, according to 24-year-old Dougie, “took ten minutes to come up with” (thanks to a demonstrative commitment to sustainable eating) – the whole Wasted concept only dreamt up three weeks ago.

So, of which foods did Dougie make a Cinderella? The menu…

Chicken heart, dock leaf, barley

Anchovy spines, anchovy mayonnaise

Salt beef, with all the celeriac

Nettle soup, nasturtium, back fat

Blood, brain, skin

Yabby, wild rocket, dill

Intercostals, potato skin, wild dandelion

Whey sorbet, feijoa, violet

Smoked wood custard, molasses, pomegranate

Brains And who’d have thought a load of potential waste could taste quite so good? The hip crowd, packed into the little café like sardines, seemed as receptive as I was – it was easy to ignore the slightly ramshackle service, bumping elbows and accidental spoon omissions for the bright zestiness of the yabby/crayfish, the creamy earthiness of the nettle soup or the intense umami hit of the anchovies (with a pong bordering on fishmeal and chewy as leather, but weirdly moreish).

By the no-messing ‘blood, skin and brains’ course, Dougie had really hit a rhythm – an old tile was smeared with a dollop of dark blood, the crunch of pig skin and milky lamb’s brains delicious against vinegary morsels of apple. Animaly and shamelessly St John-esque, this was a winner.

Crunchy, gutsy potato skin worked perfectly with soft intercostals and fresh little green cauliflower stems. Whey sorbet was a stroke of genius, too, its salty sweatiness cut by a deliciously matched moscato. Smoked wood custard, conspicuously not sweet, took on a meaty quality – its vibe hard to separate from the salmon or bacon you’d normally associate with that smokiness (which, for want of wood chips, came from a certain tree in a certain botanical garden, I gather).

Smoked Wasted has been a surprise runaway success and whilst it’ll probably take more for my co-diners to rush out and buy blood and tripe, Kym Lenoble, Dougie’s co-conspirator, has just heard that the pop-up will be heading for a stint in infamously hard-to-please Melbourne in four weeks’ time, where the crowd will surely put the team through its paces. Here’s to tops, tails, bony bits and brine – I take my hat off to Dougie and Kym for having the guts to reimagine a rubbish heap and sell it well to picky foodies… although getting your average pie-eating Aussie on board could be another challenge altogether.

*Oh, and as an aside, I recently learnt elsewhere that if you ever happen to be in the market for unpastuerised milk in Australia, you’ll find it labelled ‘Cleopatra’s Bath Milk’, branded as a beauty product to get around the authorities. I can only imagine what my granny (and much of France) would say about that.

Images – top: menus, middle: Dougie plating up blood, brains and skin and bottom: smoked custard.

Or, read it at the Standard here.


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