The James Beard Foundation is teaching chefs to value unappealing produce

By Catherine Zhang
Updated February 13, 2018
EC: Ugly Food Inspires Innovative Meals at Sustainability Boot Camp
Credit: photo by Andrey Moisseyev via getty images

When you see a bruised apple or misshapen mushroom, your first instinct might be to cut off the unseemly parts or throw out the whole thing, but the James Beard Foundation is trying to change that. A recent three-day workshop run by the JBF called Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change challenged chefs to use otherwise unappealing, ugly ingredients to create brilliant dishes. The produce came from local farms and was just as fresh as produce sold in supermarkets, but didn't look picture perfect. The chefs gathered at Glynwood Farm in Cold Spring, NY, to receive advocacy and media training and to learn about other food-industry issues.

The James Beard Foundation has pledged to cut 20 percent of the approximately 571,000 tons of food waste created by restaurants in the US every year. The boot camp is just one of the many Impact Programs JBF operates. Chefs gets their hands dirty by visiting farms, fisheries, and other producers to familiarize themselves with local resources, and then break up into teams to prepare a huge feast for the staff and guests at Glynwood.

This program helps chefs learn to source ingredients responsibly and be respectful of local players in the food space. For example, buying food that a farmer otherwise wouldn’t be able to sell creates additional revenue for the farmer. As a result of the boot camp, chefs might also learn how to use every part of an animal, including the liver, tongue, and heart. Lisa Carlson, a Minneapolis-based food truck owner, has created so much hype surrounding tongue tacos that she has driven up demand for tongue in her hometown.

“People love to know about those things,” Carlson told NPR. “They want to do something good.”