A Columbus chef embraces root-to-green cooking

Erin Edwards

Chef Seth Lassak embraces root-to-green cooking as a challenge and a necessity

The Wolf's Ridge Brewing kitchen is Executive Chef Seth Lassak's playground, and in it, no part of the vegetable is safe.

Root-to-green cooking, the concept of using the entire vegetable from bottom to top, is an old idea. But with about 40 percent of food produced in the United States going to waste, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the concept is reemerging and sparking new ideas in the kitchen. Lassak, for one, plans to work root-to-green (among other strategies for minimizing restaurant waste) into his kitchen for the foreseeable future.

"It was just common sense to us," Lassak says. "The farmers are growing this product, and putting their heart and soul into the field, and I would hate for them to know that we throw their beet greens away or we throw stems away that are completely edible. We kind of owe it to them."

The Wolf's Ridge dish that best exemplifies this concept (which is sometimes called root-to-stalk) is aptly, and simply, named Beets on the menu.

Lassak incorporates three different kinds of beets into the dish. "We're using the beet root, the stems and the green part of it," he says. "The whole thing is getting used … just like nose-to-tail cooking, all in one plate."

Yellow beets are diced for a beet relish, and the scraps get pureed to help bind the relish. Red beets and their scraps are juiced to make a gel using agar-agar. Paired with sour cream, the gel tastes of unadulterated raw beet.

Scraps are also used to make a delicious red beet sponge cake that looks like cotton candy atop the yellow beet relish. The beet stems and greens are blanched and shocked to set the color before being transformed into a garlicky pesto. And finally, raw candy stripe beets give the plate another dimension of crunch and color.

Lassak says root-to-green certainly helps to reduce the kitchen's food costs. But it's also about fostering creativity in his kitchen, not to mention upping the nutrition level for his patrons. Lots of nutrients are packed in the leaves and peels we often throw away.

For the "Charred" Prime Culotte Steak on his menu, Lassak and his employees create vegetable ash from leftover onion, carrot and potato peels.

"We put them in the oven really low and we literally burn the vegetables … but it doesn't taste burnt," Lassak says. "It still has the flavor of the original vegetable."

The meat is rolled in the ash and then cooked sous vide. It never touches the grill, but pulls charred flavor from the vegetable ash. Call it the taste bud version of an optical illusion.

"I think it's a good way to open a lot of people's eyes," Lassak says of his kitchen's efforts to use the whole vegetable. "To understand, 'Oh this is actually palatable; I can eat this and not put it down the garbage disposal.'"

Waste Not, Want Not

Anne Boninsegna and Jen Lindsey, co-owners of communal dining spot The Kitchen in German Village, are big proponents of reducing food waste in their own business.

Here are Boninsegna and Lindsey's five ideas for reducing food waste in your own kitchen:

1. Save peels or any vegetable bits that you are going to cut off-except for tubers, peppers and eggplant-in a large Ziploc bag. Once it's full, make vegetable stock and freeze it.

2. If you buy excess basil or even other herbs, make a pesto. Or just lay them flat in the oven under 200 degrees to dry them out.

3. Use leftover peppers, eggplants or zucchini to make vegetable fritters.

4. Compound butters are a great way to revitalize ugly herbs. After mixing the herbs and butter, make a log and wrap in freezer-safe paper.

5. Think about making your own herb-infused simple syrups for cocktails. Or make shrubs from fruits that are losing their luster.