One of the things I love most about the world of food and drink is that there is a constant feeling of momentum. An insatiable desire to do things better, to do things differently and to educate and inspire people in the process.
In a world that changes rapidly, presenting as many opportunities as there are hurdles, it’s amazing to see how chefs and producers adjust and thrive. Pop-up culture is now a firmly established part of the restaurant scene and, for me, it’s the perfect response to change.
“But how does this relate to wine, Lily?!” I hear you scream! First of all, please calm down, it’s Sunday evening for crying out loud. Secondly, pop-up restaurants are often concept led and, inevitably, these concepts are expressed in the wine list as well as the menu.
I recently experienced one of the best examples of a beautifully thought through pop-up I’ve encountered: Dan Barber’s WastED London.
For anyone who hasn’t heard of him, Dan Barber is the chef behind NYC’s critically acclaimed Blue Hill Farm – I highly recommend watching his episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix (S1, Ep2) to learn about his approach to producing and cooking with high quality, seasonal ingredients.
After a hugely successful run in New York, WastED London is Barber’s second pop-up project centred on reducing food waste by intercepting and salvaging ingredients that would otherwise have been discarded, transforming them into delicious restaurant dishes. The aim is to educate diners whilst raising the profile of the issue by collaborating with a series of incredible Michelin-starred chefs, all taking place on the roof of Selfridges.
The line up is ridiculous. Alain Ducasse, Gordon Ramsay, Clare Smyth, Raymond Blanc, Tom Kerridge, Simon Rogan, Jason Atherton… and they’re only a few of the veritable rock stars involved.
Our guest chef was Silo’s Doug McMaster who is, without a doubt, one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. We were buzzing with excitement on arriving at Selfridges after listening to his Spotify playlist for the night – a completely inspired part of the concept, WastED Tracks, which involves every chef curating a playlist for their evening at the pass.
Now, I’m going to have to rein in my enthusiasm about the night as a whole and focus on the drink-related stuff because, otherwise, we’ll honestly be here for days. First stop: the bar. We sat ourselves on stools made out of bio-resin and artichoke thistle, and I was thrilled to see an immediate reflection of the concept in the cocktail menu.
We saw ingredients such as failed apple cider, leftover tea kombucha, spent coffee beans, juice run-off wine, fruit off-cut cordial, citrus scraps and wastED chances instant vermouth. It was this last item that intrigued me the most.
Vermouth was actually invented as a way to make use of ‘bad’ or off wine by fortifying oxidised wine with distilled spirits and adding herbs and spices to disguise the fact that it was past its best. Nowadays, commercial vermouth is created with a brand’s specific flavour profile in mind, so it’s actually rare for a producer to use old wine in their process.
The team at WastED have reinstated the original purpose of vermouth by making it out of wine that would otherwise have been turned away by customers. The idea is that diners can order a bottle of wastED chances wine, knowing that there’s a chance it’ll be oxidised and ‘undrinkable’. If the wine’s still good, it’ll be really good; if it’s past its best, they make it into vermouth and serve it up in a cocktail.
I had to try it. This urge, combined with my love of gin, meant that I was immediately drawn to the Dead Wine Spritz: Bombay Sapphire and wastED chances instant vermouth… it didn’t disappoint!
Dangerously drinkable, the cocktail was everything I like in an alcoholic beverage: slightly tart, not too sweet, refreshing, soft on the throat, with a tiny bit of heat from the alcohol as it travels down your oesophagus. This went down so easily, and the flavour of the gin was detectable and in total harmony with the vermouth.
The other highlight for me was Doug McMaster’s use of intercepted lemon peel in his special, which was called Carrot, milk, lemon.
Silo’s brewers salvaged 50 kilos of lemons which were all processed at the brewery and would usually have been commercially rejected. Rather than throwing them away, they were transformed into a lemon compost over 24 hours. Carrots, classed as ‘ugly’ and therefore commercially ‘off-grade’, were then cooked in the compost and infused with an amazing lemony flavour.
I was blown away – it was absolutely delicious. To think that this method was born of ingredients that would usually be discarded is simultaneously inspiring and extremely frustrating.
There’s been a massive surge forward in public consciousness of food waste and the need to combat it, but it makes you wonder how we could have allowed ourselves to become so wasteful in the first place. Projects such as WastED and restaurants like Silo (which is zero waste) are an amazing way of educating people en masse. The praise garnered by these chefs is well-deserved.
You do see this type of initiative in the wine industry too. Wine estates such as Peter Yealands in New Zealand have not only made their name by producing fucking amazing wines (their Pinot Gris is very high on my list of all time favourites), they’re also celebrated for being completely carbon neutral.
We’ll be exploring more and more examples of producers who take environmental responsibility seriously in future posts. Education and creativity go hand in hand, and there are so many amazing examples of that being put into practice in the world of food and drink.
Hopefully we’ve whetted your appetite a bit! We’d love to hear about any pop-ups you’ve attended recently. If there’s an event or producer you think we should cover, let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
WastED London runs until 2nd April 2017. Although bookings are difficult to get hold of, definitely add your name to the waiting list and cross your fingers: http://www.selfridges.com/GB/en/content/article/wasted-london