• Brussels sprouts get an attractive makeover at Ormeggio at The Spit. (Ormeggio At The Spit)
Maximising produce seems like a no-brainer and the root-to-leaf approach is one worth adopting.
By
Lee Tran Lam

24 Oct 2017 - 9:55 AM  UPDATED 30 Oct 2017 - 10:47 AM

It’s not unusual to see a menu that includes chicken liver, ox tail or gizzards – the reign of nose-to-tail cooking has seen chefs co-opting often overlooked animal parts into their dishes (and expanding diners’ definitions of what, exactly, they consider edible as well). There are also restaurants that take the same approach to vegetables: at Yellow in Sydney, Brent Savage oversees an eggplant dish that cleverly resembles pork belly. Slabs of the nightshade are twice-cooked and then presented with trimmings from the eggplant skin. “We dehydrate the skin, it goes a black colour and we make a powder … from that,” he says. “We use all the bits from all the pieces."

Maximising produce seems like a no-brainer when food costs are a burden for any restaurant, but the reality is that not all ingredients are created equal: eggplant is an easier sell than beef intestines or lamb hearts, for instance. So at Ormeggio at the Spit in Sydney, head chef Victor Moya knows that being creative is key to overcoming the reluctance of diners to try certain ingredients. That’s why he’s rehabilitating Brussels sprouts – the brassica often brandished as a culinary punishment during people’s childhoods.

Moya has weaponised the green by enhancing the flavour potential of each single element of the plant. So he’s produced a dish that features confit and roasted Brussels sprouts hearts, fermented Brussel sprouts, crispy Brussels sprouts leaves, Brussels sprouts powder, charcoal corn purée and hazelnut hollandaise

“[At Ormeggio], the concept is always to use the whole vegetable, not just a little part. This is a philosophy that crosses all vegetables and proteins,” he says. “We also liked the idea of using a vegetable that people would usually avoid because they don’t know how amazing it can be!”   

The dish has, unsurprisingly, led to many Brussels sprouts converts at the restaurant.

Brussels sprouts get an attractive makeover at Ormeggio at The Spit.

Alejandro Cancino, the executive chef of Brisbane’s Urbane, sees so much possibility in every ingredient, too. “From the seeds to the skin, roots, everything can be used,” he says.

For example, he presents two types of soup that showcase corn. First, there’s a “very simple” soup he makes purely from kernels, water and salt. It’s carefully strained through a cheesecloth and served cold. Then, for its match, he takes all the leftovers – the remains and residue from the cheesecloth, the cooking water, the corn cob – and cooks it altogether to create a full-flavoured corn consommé that then gets smoked. The results are a cold, creamy soup and a hot, clear stock with surprising levels of flavour. “It’s all about technique,” he says. “Even the cooking water of the sweetcorn gets used – you’re not even wasting the water.” It’s a fact he’s especially proud of.

Exploiting every part of the vegetable has plenty of bonus effects: you’re not just highlighting good produce and being budget-friendly, you’re also addressing sustainability and waste.

“I’m very keen to maximise resources,” he says. He takes a similar approach with the shelled parts of peas – incorporating them in to soup or consommé, or using the shoots with vegetables. Cancino adds that any organic waste at Urbane ends up composted and sent to the farm that they buy vegetables from. That might be the ultimate expression of root-to-leaf cooking.

Africola in Adelaide is a champion of turning humble ingredients into overachieving multi-taskers. For the barbecued carrot dish, Duncan Welgemoed and his chefs peel the carrots and trim the cores, juice the trimmings and then add kombu and sumac to this liquid to create a braise for the carrots. The juices are then reduced and, once the carrots are cooked and seasoned, used to dress the vegetable.

It’s a similar story for the cauliflower steak: “all trim goes into a pot, we cook it down and make a purée of it. We then add equal amounts of tahini, the juice of one lemon, a splash of olive oil and dress the cauliflower with it.”

The standout example of root-to-leaf cooking at Africola is the stunning whole-roasted cabbage, which is dressed with a smoked butter beurre blanc, citrus and chives. The outer leaves are fried and dressed with fermented plum powder and the effect is like the world’s best salt and vinegar chips.

One inspiration for this creation was Dave Verheul’s red cabbage dish at The Town Mouse in Melbourne; the other was the fact Welgemoed was drawing a lot of bold, smoky flavour from cabbage by cooking it over coals, directly in embers or in soil, hangi-style.

In contrast to Verheul’s recipe, Welgemoed chose to work with savoy cabbage instead (“it's lighter and more versatile”) and was determined to use the outer parts, too – “I hated throwing those leaves out”. Plus, those elements are handy, too. “They are also a lot more durable for frying or dehydrating than the inner leaves.”

Exploiting every part of the vegetable has plenty of bonus effects: you’re not just highlighting good produce and being budget-friendly, you’re also addressing sustainability and waste.

“We need to be mindful of our approach. I've cooked way too long in top kitchens where that wasn't an issue,” he says. It’s an attitude that’s “frankly irresponsible”.

Thinking this broadly also pays off when your accountant visits, too.

“Our food costs are excellent because we have little to no waste,” Welgemoed says. “All waste is another ingredient in our eyes.” 

 

Love the story? Follow Lee Tran Lam on Twitter and Instagram. Lead image by @yellowsydney via Instagram. 

Have we got your attention and your tastebuds? Brand-new series Food Safari Earth airs 8pm, Thursdays on SBS then on SBS On Demand. For recipes and more visit the program site right here.

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