Darwin & Wallace uses chefs’ competitive edge to slash food waste

AUTHOR: Simon Duff

Any foodservice business worth its salt knows it’ll only succeed with a food waste reduction strategy if it engages the whole team, especially its kitchen brigade. Recognising the competitive streak running through most chefs, Simon Duff, Group Executive Chef of seven strong bar group Darwin & Wallace, resolved to tap into this culinary character trait. Read on to discover how his multi-faceted plan struck a nerve, and for tips on how to inspire your team.

Growing the team, building their knowledge

As we’ve grown as a group, got more sites and started attracting the level of chefs I wanted in the kitchens, I wanted to make it as interesting as possible for them. A key part of that now is the competitions we run every time we do a menu change.

It made me think that this was a great opportunity when you’ve got the chefs all together, bouncing off each other and bantering to encourage them to start thinking about how they build dishes, using all the ingredients, whether in that one dish or creatively devising more than one dish to ensure we use the whole thing. Part of that education has been about getting the chefs to understand that if they can master the art of wasting none of the food we buy in, then we can afford to buy better quality produce.

Competing to put food waste on the menu

I wanted everyone in the business to both learn this philosophy and also have the chance of seeing their dish on the menu, so we opened up the competitions to front of house staff too.

It’s worked really well. Recently we had a fabulous beetroot and pumpkin salad recipe which used every single bit of both vegetables and included a hummus, an oil and the skin. That went on the menu, was absolutely delicious and wasted nothing. The chef had really thought about it.

I am a perfectionist and study the data from the waste company and have weekly stock takes so we can do a thorough wastage report. I can see what we’re wasting and how. And the site that wastes the least wins a prize. I’ve taken a group out for the day to see our supplier Dingley Dell in Norfolk and recently a group went to Champagne.

It works brilliantly when you have everyone together bouncing off each other – much better than me just lecturing them and giving them hell. They much prefer to see what their peers are doing and then thinking about what they can do better. You can actually see the level of engagement.

I also gather all the head chefs and GMs together once a month to run through our results and they share their ideas. Like recently two of the sites have been trying different ways of recycling their coffee. One is getting it made into logs while the other is sending it for AD. The most successful one will be implemented across the business.

Ingredients for success

Introducing a competitive element has helped lots of the chefs think about things in a completely new way. Many of them now look at a dish in a different way and question the inclusion of every single ingredient – do we really need it? If it’s not adding something then let’s remove it.

I can feel the levels of awareness being raised. Because I can’t stand in every kitchen every day, I have to find a way to inspire them to think about themselves, to think about the future and why the menu is designed in this way.

There’s a value, praise and peer respect. We spend more time going through the why, managing GPs. Mondays are better when you don’t have to look for things that are ‘missing’.

My group head chef Thomas is living proof of how this has worked. He really didn’t think about food waste before. Now, after four years working this way, he comes into work and tells me about things he’s done at home, reusing products. I know I can trust him now to be my mouthpiece in the kitchen.

I give our kitchens an allowance of 0.5% waste. If they hit 2% then that is a worry and I will come in for a week and go through the bins and no one enjoys that!



Give your team the competitive edge by joining Food Waste Bad Taste this year.

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