Las Vegas Sun

February 19, 2017

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Guest Columnist:

Ben Vaughn talks wasted food, serves his Southern food at Motley Brews

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Glenn Pinkerton / Las Vegas News Bureau

Motley Brews’ 2015 Great Vegas Festival of Beer on Saturday, April 11, 2015, in downtown Las Vegas.

Food Network Star Ben Vaughn

Food Network star chef and restaurateur Ben Vaughn. Launch slideshow »

I read an interesting stat the other day. In the United States, 40 percent of all edible food goes uneaten and is thrown away. Or, to put it another way, nearly half of all the edible food in this country is feeding our nation’s landfills. That statistic is unbelievable.

As a chef, it’s impossible for me to not be acutely aware of food and ingredients. Food is everywhere in my life, from personal to professional. I try to conserve as much as possible, and along the way I’ve come up with a few tricks that might help you do the same.

We can all do our part to help conserve. Now before you run screaming away that this column is going to be about broad, sweeping governmental policies like the Food Conservation and Energy Act or the Agriculture Act of 2014, it’s not. I also am not going to start pointing my finger at the collective “we” and lay blame like pavement.

I’m not a preacher, and this isn’t a pulpit. That said, I’ll follow it up to say that we can all do a little more. It’s true. We have collective bad habits that we can all work to improve, and if we all pitch in a little bit, the situation can improve incrementally. I can feel your excitement now: “Slow, incremental change? Where do I sign up?”

It’s not sexy, but I’ll bet you a shiny nickel that nearly every big change you’ve seen in your life actually started with slow, incremental change that tipped the balance over time. Half of our nation’s edible food winds up in landfills. Why? The fact of the matter is, whether intentional or not, we waste food.

The first tip I’ll throw out for you is to make a weekly grocery list and stick to it. On average, about 25 percent of the food we purchase at the grocery store goes unused. Life happens, and sometimes the best-laid plans of grocery lists go out the window when Billy’s soccer match runs long, or you’re caught working late trying to make a deadline. That said, we’ve all had tough weeks where we’d rather just skip cooking at home and order pizza.

Those days pile up, and next thing you know, it’s Friday, and all of your produce is wilting. Try your best to sit down, plan out the week’s meals, make a list of everything you need, and purchase the correct amounts. Then stick to the plan. Most people have a difficult time keeping produce or fresh fruit around.

If the banana bundle browns and gets a little too mushy to eat, repurpose that into a tasty banana smoothie. A couple bananas chopped up, maybe some strawberries that are overripe, a little sugar (to taste), some ice and Greek yogurt all dropped into a blender or food processor, and, wow, two minutes later, you’ve got a tasty and portable breakfast as you’re running out the door.

The simple concept of repurposing food takes just a few minutes of creativity and the ability to step outside your brain and think of a new way to use your food. Carrots and celery that are no longer crisp can be pureed in a food processor, added to your meat sauce and turned into an amazing Bolognese.

Another tip is to think about your recipes themselves. You’ve been making the same meatloaf from the same recipe since eight-track tapes were all the rage. Every week, you make the exact same amount, eat the exact same amount and throw away the exact same amount. Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the recipe and just make what you know you’ll eat.

Most grocery stores allow you to purchase the exact amount of ground beef, for instance, that you need. They create those prepackaged amounts for your convenience and because their bet is you’ll buy 2.3 pounds of ground round even though you need only 1.5 pounds, banking that you’ll be too lazy to wait for the meat cutter to package your order. Save a few bucks and buy only what you need.

It’s so easy for us to simply just throw away the food that we don’t use. For the most part, food is extremely accessible and affordable in this country. We don’t value it like we should.

Here’s a fun one you probably haven’t thought of doing. You have a chance to be salvation for an ugly onion or abscessed turnip. When you’re shopping at the grocery store, most people either consciously or subconsciously pick the most Norman Rockwell picturesque, classic “apple-looking” apple possible. The produce that looks a little rough around the edges will likely be passed over by everyone and ultimately thrown away. Be the person who sees the inner beauty of the curvy carrot, and leave the model beauty for someone far less vain than you.

The last tip I’ve got for today is a little trick we do at my house. It’s pretty much a given that I’m going to keep a pretty good inventory system for my home kitchen. It’s a necessity for restaurants. That said, I don’t think you need to run out and create a bunch of spreadsheets and running refrigerator inventories unless that's your thing. What you can do is check what you’ve got in the fridge and pantry before you make your weekly grocery list.

Create a recipe for those items that are about to expire or that have been taking up space for weeks. That way you’re actively getting in front of your inventory problem and conquering it like I would.

Those are just a few tips. I didn’t even touch on things like donating canned goods to a local food bank or making a meal and bringing it to a friend who could use a nice home-cooked meal. Life is short. Spread the food love while we can. Who knows? You may fall in love with slow, incremental change.

2015 Great Vegas Festival of Beer

Motley Brews’ 2015 Great Vegas Festival of Beer on Saturday, April 11, 2015, in downtown Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

Motley Brews Great Vegas Festival of Beer

Ben was a guest star chef at Saturday’s Motley Brews Great Vegas Festival of Beer, Nevada’s largest craft beer event celebrating its fifth anniversary with more than 6,000 festivalgoers filling downtown Las Vegas streets. In the VIP tent, Ben provided an advance tasting of the dishes he’ll be serving at his new restaurant Southern Kitchen opening this summer on Fremont Street: black eyed pea fritters; Southern fish ’n’ chips with Delta catfish and chips fried in duck fat; meatloaf sliders, mini handhelds with house-made smoked ketchup; and two Southern classics joined in matrimony — fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese.

Craft beer fans enjoyed an endless flow of more than 400 craft brews served by more than 100 breweries while indulging in other dishes by some of Las Vegas’ top chefs.

“This festival is a celebration of craft beer, great food and even better people,” said Brian Chapin, founder of Motley Brews. “Las Vegas has been such a great supporter of our events over the past five years, and it’s because this city welcomes us with open arms that we are able to return year after year with a bigger and better event.”

A fan favorite was the Gastropub, where guests indulged in mouthwatering dishes from MTO Cafe, DW Bistro, Naked City Pizza, O Face Doughnuts, Nacho Daddy, Truck U Barbeque, Sausagefest, The Goodwich, Echo & Rig, Cantina Laredo and Pot Liquor Contemporary American Smokehouse.

As the sun set upon downtown, VIP guests sampled exclusive beer cocktails from local celebrity mixologist Andrew Pollard and menu items created by Ben for his new restaurant. A portion of proceeds was donated to Goodie Two Shoes Foundation and Nevada Craft Brewers Association.

Ben Vaughn is an award-winning chef and popular TV personality best known as a host for the Food Network. A food lover, family man and author, Ben’s latest book, “Southern Routes,” chronicles his journey to find the best dishes and restaurants from North Carolina to Texas. “Southern Routes” is published by HarperCollins and will be released late summer.

Ben’s culinary career started in South Florida and flourished as he became chef/owner of trendsetting and critically acclaimed restaurants from Memphis to Atlanta. He’s received recognition from the James Beard Foundation and currently serves as CEO and culinary director for his restaurant group Fork Knife Spoon. Ben plans to open the first of several non-Strip restaurants this year starting with Southern Kitchen on Fremont Street downtown as a neighbor of Atomic Liquors.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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