New Beginnings

What can you do with old coffee grounds and used french fry oil? A behind-the-scenes look at what local restaurants don't send to the landfill.

A good kitchen lives by the maxim “Waste not, want not.” Bones go into the stockpot; stale bread is cubed into croutons; overripe fruit gets cooked down into dessert compotes. Every last ingredient is used, and used creatively.

In restaurants in and around Arlington, that frugality doesn’t end with what’s on the menu. Many local chefs are applying a similar logic to their so-called trash. And they’re taking it a step beyond curbside recycling.

Walk into Bayou Bakery for a triple latte and an order of sugar-dusted bei-gnets, and you may spot a pile of oversized bags filled with coffee grounds in front of the counter. The Cajun-style café brews about 100 pounds of organic beans every week, but the used grounds don’t get thrown into the dumpster. Instead, they’re given away for free to green thumbs who use it as fertilizer to perk up their gardens.

At farm-to-table favorite Härth, Executive Chef Tom Elder uses the vegetable scraps from his kitchen to create compost for seven 800-square-foot raised garden beds in the restaurant’s backyard, where Elder raises more than 50 different varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs. Up to 60 pounds of organic waste is added weekly to the compost heap and kept out of the trash.

Even the fat from the quartet of deep fryers at the recently opened Eamonn’s on Columbia Pike has a second life. Every three days or so, the 200 pounds of canola oil used to crisp up the fish ’n’ chips has to be replaced. This presented a moral dilemma for chef-owner Cathal Armstrong, who was loath to see it end up in a landfill. Instead, Armstrong has partnered with an eco-minded company that converts the golden grease into biofuel.

“We can bury our heads in the sand and say, ‘The problem is so big that we’re never going to be able to create solutions,’ ” Armstrong says. “Or we can take the plus one approach”—meaning that every positive action, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction.

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Categories: Food & Drink