Last month, Irving Farm Coffee Roasters was delighted to participate in Blue Hill‘s transformation into wastED, a one of a kind pop-up restaurant that invited diners to reconsider food waste while some of the country’s top chefs daringly innovated their way through 600 pounds of ugly vegetables (including 350 pounds vegetable pulp), 150 pounds of kale ribs, 30 gallons of beef tallow, 475 pounds of skate cartilage and 900 pounds of waste-fed pigs, creating 10,000 unique dishes over the course of three weeks.
Irving Farm’s contribution was cascara, also known as the skin or husk of the coffee cherry. When coffee is de-pulped, the discarded cascara is traditionally composted and repurposed as fertilizer (or ends up as a pollutant in the surrounding waterways) but it also contains a delicious mucilage with a sweet, earthy flavor and up to 25% of the caffeine found in a normal cup of coffee. The Ortiz Herrera family at Finca Talnamica in El Salvador generously hand-picked and sun-dried 150 pounds of cascara from their Bourbon plants for this event, and producers Hermann and Nena Mendez were able to dine at wastED with their daughter, Mayita, who has worked for Irving Farm since 2013. Their Talnamica coffee was recently featured in our limited edition Horchata Chocolate Bar from Raaka Chocolate, and it was thrilling to see the husks turned into a delicious infusion that challenged us to rethink the idea of after-dinner coffee.
All of this was made possible by the incomparable Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill in Manhattan and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, NY. We count ourselves very lucky to partner with chefs who are deeply committed to understanding and honoring the scope of how food is grown, prepared and consumed—physically, intellectually and emotionally. Dan is at the forefront of this conversation and our Director of Wholesale, Teresa von Fuchs, was able to chat with him about a few of his takeaways at the conclusion of wastED.
TvF: What was your aim behind the wastED pop up?
DB: One goal was can we create something that disrupts our daily routine, wakes us up and really focuses our efforts? I really believe that in cooking (as well as in life, but I don’t give advice about life) you only become better by working outside your comfort zone.
And wastED was hard. It stretched us as a restaurant and built camaraderie in really surprising ways.
Another aim was to really wear our heart on our sleeves more everyday. Whether we were pushing this agenda because of environmental reasons or economic reasons, could we really highlight our use of craft and not hide the fact that restaurants work to use as much of every ingredient as possible everyday?
TvF: You mentioned camaraderie. Was one impetus of including guest chefs to help spread the mission?
DB: Not at all. Our intent wasn’t to inspire other kitchens but to recognize that this is what Chefs are already doing everyday in their kitchens. Actually we were all a little surprised by the interest! The crazy long lines late at night and all the social media attention. Also that we attracted such younger crowds. It feels like we’ve given the restaurant a new life.
TvF: Irving Farm helped source a special cascara (or coffee cherry) preparation for the coffee course. What was your first reaction when you tried it?
DB: I really fell in love with it. The fullness of the sweetness was just so surprising. It was really a revelation. I remember standing in the kitchen with Adam Kaye, our Chef and Kitchen director at Stone Barns, and being totally amazed by the flavor. It was one of my top three experiences in this whole process. I can’t wait to keep using it. I want to cook with it.
TvF: That’s fantastic! We’re so happy we could share it with you. Now that the pop-up is over, how has it changed—or will it change—the menu at Blue Hill?
DB: We’re still figuring that out. I’d really like to keep pushing how we can wear our heart on our sleeve. Most of our menu already addresses waste, so how can we keep calling attention to it without losing diners’ enthusiasm. I hope we keep working on it together.
Huge thanks to Chef Dan, Finca Talnamica and everyone who took the plunge with us at wastED. Stay tuned for more cascara collaborations popping up around the city in the coming months!