Minimizing Food Waste: A Chef’s Perspective

An Interview with Chef Billy Lucas of Taco Reho

I had the pleasure of interviewing Chef Billy Lucas of Taco Reho. We discussed his innovative methods to minimize food waste at his restaurants and how to turn potential waste into flavorful components. Billy began to emphasize a fundamental principle: food waste indicates a flaw somewhere in the supply chain. He pointed out that overbuying or poor ordering practices often lead to unnecessary waste, affecting the environment and the restaurant’s bottom line.

At Taco Reho, almost every part of the ingredients has a purpose. Billy highlighted how he uses cilantro stems, typically discarded in many kitchens, to enhance the flavor of various dishes. “The stems are the best flavor, in my opinion, as long as they’re chopped small enough,” he said. This approach also extends to other ingredients; for example, while onion skins are usually thrown away, Billy mentioned that they could be dehydrated and used for making onion powder or even coloring tortillas. Regarding proteins, Taco Reho ensures that nothing goes to waste. “We cut off the trim and put it back into the braises so it melts down on top of everything, utilizing that flavor,” Billy shared. By reintroducing the protein trim into his dishes, he can maximize flavor extraction and minimize waste. Any remnants that don’t melt down are removed after cooking, maintaining the final product’s high quality.

Food waste indicates a flaw somewhere in the supply chain.

Despite these effective practices, Billy acknowledged that the biggest challenge lies in managing prepared food. Keeping food sorted, labeled, and organized is crucial to prevent spoilage and waste. Taco Reho has incorporated multiple line checks throughout the day to tackle this, ensuring that all items are correctly rotated and stored at the correct temperatures. “Line checks have helped us a lot in the last couple of months,” Billy noted, highlighting the importance of continuous monitoring. While Taco Reho relies on essential tools such as tape, sharpies, and thermometers, Billy asserted that more advanced technology also plays a role. “Your ovens help you braise things down nicely,” he said, underscoring how efficient cooking methods can reduce waste. Food choppers and blenders enable him to utilize every part of the ingredients, breaking down fibrous components and incorporating them into dishes.

Our conversation also touched on home cooking practices. Billy revealed that he has adopted a new approach to eating at home, which involves more frequent shopping trips and buying smaller quantities. This method ensures that he uses up all his ingredients before they spoil. “I find that I have less product in my refrigerator, and I’m more apt to use it all than if I stocked it with a bunch of stuff,” he explained. He also shared a practical tip for keeping greens fresh: wrapping them in a slightly damp paper towel and storing them in a large plastic bag with some air circulation. This simple technique can extend the shelf life of greens for weeks. His struggle with bananas was one humorous yet practical aspect of the interview. Despite his best intentions, they often turn black before he can use them. I suggested making banana bread or even infusing rum with black banana peels, as the sugars in fully ripened bananas can create a deep, intense flavor profile.

Chef Billy Lucas

“Cilantro stems are the best flavor, in my opinion, as long as they’re chopped small enough”

Billy emphasized the benefits of buying fresh and using ingredients quickly to maximize their flavor and reduce waste. He is very excited about the upcoming local tomato season. He suggests leaving tomatoes at room temperature until cut, then refrigerating them. Through his innovative practices and commitment to sustainability, Billy Lucas sets an inspiring example for both professional kitchens and home cooks alike. His insights demonstrate that with creativity and attention to detail, it’s possible to significantly reduce food waste and make the most of every

Hari Cameron, chef consultant, is a renowned culinary expert, consultant and restaurateur. He has received critical acclaim for his modern farm-to-table approach to cooking and has been recognized for his numerous contributions to the hospitality industry. With a passion for using the highest quality Mid-Atlantic ingredients, Chef Cameron has become a leading voice in today’s culinary landscape.

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