‘Stem-to-root’ cooking trend opens new market for produce cuttings
Hereford beef served at The Ambrette where head chef Dev Biswal expounds stem-to-root cooking

‘Stem-to-root’ cooking trend opens new market for produce cuttings

Angela Youngman
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Dev Biswal, head chef at the Michelin-starred Ambrette restaurant
Dev Biswal

‘Stem-to-root’ or ‘root-to-shoot’ cooking and dining is increasingly being stressed as one of the upcoming food trends in the UK. But what is it? Produce Business UK digs deeper to discover what this emerging market means for produce buyers and suppliers

‘Throw nothing away’ is the mantra of root-to-shoot cooks. It’s the ultimate in fruit and vegetable preparation; focusing on using every possible scrap of produce. Basically, the aim is to eat the entire plant, such as carrot tops, cauliflower leaves and even potato peelings. The goal is to find a use for these typical ‘waste products’ within the kitchen, rather than throwing bits away. 

Chef fans

Among the proponents of stem-to-root cooking are Waitrose executive chef Jonathan Moore and Dev Biswal, head chef at the Michelin-starred Ambrette restaurant in Kent.

“It’s criminal to see how much food is wasted and thrown into the bin,” Biswal states. “Very little needs to be thrown away. You can do so much with it [a whole piece of fruit or veg]. Even things like cauliflower stalks can add a subtle flavour to stocks, and coriander stalks, which add crunch and zing to food.”

Ambrette restaurant dish
Chef Biswal uses vegetable and herb stalks to add “crunch and zing”

Chef, writer and food activist Justin Horne has taken the concept of root-to-shoot cooking to its fullest extent by opening Tiny Leaf, a new restaurant concept based in London’s Notting Hill. Here, nothing is wasted. In its food preparation Tiny Leaf only uses produce that growers regard as waste.

Many of the fruit and vegetables have been rejected by supermarkets, or are out of date. It’s a massive market, and Horne believes this type of dining is an ideal way of dealing with the millions of tonnes of food waste that ends up in landfill each year.

“We wanted to do something different,” Horne tells Produce Business UK. “As chefs we noticed that the bigger the client, the larger the amount of waste. A restaurant opportunity arose in West Park Road last year and we decided to open Tiny Leaf.

“We use everything. Carrot heads can be blitzed and used in smoothies and soups; avocado stones can be dehydrated and blitzed into powder to make flour; cauliflower leaves are edible and can be made into soups. You can blitz anything. Even out-of-date herbs can be used in oils. The small amount of waste that we do create, we turn into biogas, which does not damage the environment.”

Since its launch in January, Tiny Leaf’s ethos has generated a lot of publicity, both within and outside the UK. Horne says there have been over 200 articles printed in the international media, from places as far afield as Gothenburg and Los Angeles. Reviews and customer comments are extremely positive too, with a high number of repeat customers.

Horne says he has developed a good range of suppliers. “I did a talk to the Soil Association and got several farmers involved as a result,” he reveals. “We have links with a whole food company, organic producers and a cheese supplier. All the produce is graded each day by myself and the other chefs to decide what we can do with it.”

Tiny Leaf’s menus change daily to reflect produce availability – a popular concept with customers who enjoy the flexibility and versatility it encourages. Typical dishes include: red and gold beetroot salad with sage and parsnip; courgetti (spiralised courgette) with hemp pesto; butter bean ragu; cauliflower and red lentil pilaf with rose and pistachio; wild rice with mango and toasted coconut; and buckwheat pancakes with blueberry compote.

Meals are served throughout the day from breakfast to dinner. Leftovers are boxed up using biodegradable boxes and given to diners to take home. There is also a bar offering cocktails, such as the ‘Tiny Leaf’, which is made from organic vodka, apple, cucumber, mint, elderflower and ginger, and served in a plant pot containing edible soil.

Other champions

And it’s not just chefs who are investigating ways of using every scrap of fruit and vegetables. Consumers are being encouraged to dehydrate surplus produce from their allotments and gardens with simple-to-use dehydration counter-top machines, such as one being sold by Waitrose in which layers of fruit and vegetables can be dehydrated within minutes. Also, as reported by Produce Business UK, sports nutrition business Cambridge Commodities is working with local mushroom growers to utilise the mass of mushroom stalks that are removed because supermarkets don’t want them. 

UK retailer Asda, meanwhile, recently began trialling a new line of broccoli leaves to both tap into the health eating trend – broccoli leaves are high in vitamins A, C and K – and answer calls for food waste reductions. The leaves, which are usually left to rot and ploughed back into the land, represent 70% wastage from the broccoli plant. Retailing at £1 for a 200g bag, Asda’s Sliced Broccoli Leaves are due to be available nationwide from June 8.

Educating consumers

Proponents of root-to-shoot cooking accept the success of the market also comes down to education. Producers and consumers alike need educating on the nutritional properties of produce that has been deemed to be waste, and shown ways of using it effectively.

But with a little bit of thought, items that might otherwise be thrown away can be put to good use. The roots and skins of most produce such as potatoes, beetroot and carrots, can easily be dehydrated and turned into ribbons to decorate food or made into crisps. Pea pods can be added to sauces for flavour; apricot kernels infuse a subtle almond taste; while chopped vegetable stalks and the fronds of plants, such as celery, give extra flavour to many dishes.

Indeed, many people forget that the stalks are often more nutritious and have greater flavour than the heads of plants. Nutritionist Rob Hobson, for one, believes it’s a way of thinking about food that should be implanted in everyone’s mind.

“I would love people to be more mindful about the amount of food they throw away and trends like this offer examples of what you can do with these bits of food,” he explains. “One of the easiest ways to get involved in the trend is by slicing the stalks of broccoli. They are just as nutritious and work really when when trying to feed kids.”

Together with friend Lily Simpson, Hobson has co-authored a reference guide to healthy eating, called the Detox Kitchen Bible. “In Lily’s deli they use the wastage from the juicer by spreading it thinly on a baking sheet and roasting in the oven to create vegetable crackers,” Hobson suggests.

“You can also use the waste from root vegetables in juices or blend them into dips that work well with pulses. Even the bits you would never think of eating can be made into something more interesting. The roots of beetroots and the rind of a watermelon can be made into chutneys, for example.”

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