Sabine Spindler has cooked in some of Europe’s best Michelin-starred restaurants from early in her career, and while most chefs around her were throwing food out, she had her eyes peeled on the bin thinking about what else she could create with the discarded ingredients.
Ms Spindler now runs food waste reduction workshops in Sydney and says many people are missing out on golden food opportunities and literally throwing away flavour.
“I think it is a big misunderstanding and ignorance of people that they really don’t know how long they can eat food — we are so used to A-grade food which looks pretty but doesn’t always taste nice anymore,” Ms Spindler told Craig Reucassel in the War on Waste Podcast.
She said her waste passion originally came from growing up with grandmothers who survived wars. She then started re-imagining what she could do with food that would normally be thrown away.
“My aim with the whole waste reduction always comes from the end of trying to extract as much flavour as I can out of stuff which we normally throw out,” Ms Spindler said.
Flat white leftovers to ricotta cheese
It started in earnest when she was working as a barista many years ago and became aware of how much steamed milk was discarded in the cafe where she was working.
She started monitoring it and was gob-smacked at just how much was wasted.
She and her fellow baristas started dabbling with turning that discarded steamed milk into ricotta cheese and she embarked on the waste warrior path.
Nowadays she is helping others reduce their waste with a range of tips and recipes that includes pickling and making fermented pineapple skins into Mexican soda drinks.
Sabine Spindler’s recipes include a Mexican soda drink made from fermented pineapple skins. (Supplied: Cornersmith)
Pineapple skin mocktails
- 5 litres water
- 800 grams sugar
- skins and cores of three pineapples, roughly chopped into pieces
- You can play around a bit with adding spices: like allspice berries, star anise, cinnamon.
- Dissolve the sugar in water, then add pineapple skin pieces and cores (and spices if using them).
- Store in big crockpot or plastic bucket.
- Have a piece of baking paper on top and weigh it down with a plate, so that all the fruit is submerged.
- Put a tea towel of the bucket and let it sit outside.
- Check every day and when it starts getting slightly fizzy and fermented strain the skins and cores off.
- Use the soda as is for a super healthy soft drink, or mix with mineral water or vodka/gin for a more adult drink.
“I had a couple of chefs working with me who had been travelling in Mexico and they said ‘we used to drink this drink, let’s look it up’,” Ms Spindler said.
“We made a syrup out of the skins, which actually had a lot of flavour.
“The Mexicans having been doing it for a very long time.”
Scraps as hors d’oeuvres
Ms Spindler took her waste reduction practice to another level when she opened up the production kitchen of her new eatery in Sydney three years ago.
She wanted to host a big launch but had a tight budget.
“When you come from a financial angle you realise how much you can save,” she said.
Ms Spindler talked to a fruit and vegetable supplier and learned that every day before the market closed people were throwing out things that they thought would not survive until the next day.
Participants in the chef’s workshops learn to to ferment and pickle discarded ingredients to minimise food waste. (Supplied: Cornersmith)
She said it actually cost more money to have someone go through this food than it did to throw it out.
“We got amazing produce for this dinner for the launch of the new shop and from then on it was on,” Ms Spindler said.
At the launch, she was upfront about the source of the food the attendees were eating and explained the process.
“There really is nothing wrong with it,” Ms Spindler said.
Ms Spindler attributes the high volumes of food waste to misconceptions about how food should look and taste as well as “a lost connection to food”.
“We don’t know where it comes from we don’t know how it grows,” she said.
“If you don’t have a relationship with something you don’t care and then you don’t care if you throw it out in the bin.”
Pickle your kitchen scraps
- 1 cup very hot water
- 1/2 cup white/ rice wine vinegar/ apple cider vinegar
- 4 tbs sugar
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 cup sliced vegetables of your choice.
- 1 tsp spices of your choice or a few slices of ginger, bay leaf, or chilli
- Combine vinegar, hot water, sugar and salt into a jug. Stir until salt and sugar is dissolved.
- Put your thinly sliced vegetables and spices of your choice into a non-reactive container.
- Pour brine over the vegetables and leave to sit for at least 20 minutes.
- Once cool, store your quick pickles, covered in the fridge. They will last for up to 2 weeks.
Chief amongst Ms Spindler’s food waste prevention strategies is pickling, which she says is an under-utilised and under-valued tradition.
“It’s an amazing tradition and it has been done for a really long time so it’s not new — things have been done we just have to re-learn it and connect to it.”
But her main tip to prevent food wastage is to start with the way you shop.
“You should start with [buying] vegies at markets or with growers when you know they are seasonal — eating seasonally means you are not paying for a lot of infrastructure or logistics,” Ms Spindler said.
Another tip, and an unlikely one from a chef, is to cook less.
“People say ‘I’ve got all these leftovers’ and it’s sometimes because they’ve planned for a whole week of cooking and over-shopped and then they’re left with leftovers.”