In Chef Varin’s kitchen, little goes to waste. Not the ends of chard, the last asparagus stems, or the tops of strawberries. For chef, this is the beginning of new additions to the menu, such as charcuterie.
While most of us associate charcuterie with boards full of meats and cheeses, here those plates also brim with jackfruit jams, assorted pickles, and raisins macerated in sherry. For his part, Chef Varin has turned turnips into kimchee, preserved carrots with caraway, and pickled asparagus that was leftover from menu development. Elsewhere, surplus vegetables and fruits not pretty enough for plating might be opportunities missed. Here, those succulent little morsels get a second chance—to be pickled, fermented or pressed into sweet little pastes.
Waste Not, Want Not
“It sort of becomes a lardering project if you will,” says Chef Varin. “You just try to make the best out of saving something. Our charcuterie program becomes a place where we can be conscientious about not throwing things away.”
Take the moment Chef Varin discovered jackfruit pulp at the bar. The fruit had already been thoroughly macerated, soaked in sugar, and pressed off to make syrup for a cocktail. While most people would see a fruit that had served a purpose, Chef Varin saw an opportunity to team up with the cocktail program in a whole new way. The next time the bar team extruded pistachios for syrup, Chef Varin got the spent solids. “You can make so much with that—a frangipane, pistachio jam, a baklava…” he muses. Now, he has about five pounds of pistachio trims in the walk-in awaiting his next creation.
Savory and Sweet and Meat
While a good portion of Heartwood’s charcuterie program is devoted to the savory—think pickled sea beans and fermented radishes—there’s also room for sweets, such as a jackfruit jam that’s served alongside cheese. And, while the restaurant may not have the kind of dry-curing environment for making the perfect prosciutto in house, all is not lost for carnivores: The chef and team are continually perfecting a lamb sausage, and the homemade duck liver pâté will remain a staple.
Chef Varin (who’d love to teach a class to on making the most of underutilized foods, especially for kids who are subsisting—but not thriving—on chips while their parents work) has some advice for home chefs facing wilting veggies: Throw nothing away. Strawberry tops, for example, might be mixed with sugar and vinegar for a delectable shrub. When faced with leftover ginger, scrape off the skins, mix them with water and sugar, and cover it all with cheesecloth. The natural yeast on the skins will soon start working its magic—feeding off the sugar—until things get fizzy. Then, voila, it’s homemade ginger beer.