For many of us — including yours truly — staring into a refrigerator sparsely filled or containing only odds and ends is enough to send us running to the nearest restaurant. It is this reaction that John Medall, executive chef at The Patio on Lamont Street, aims to change.
Medall maintains a tight ship in the kitchen of The Patio. His rule: “Don’t throw anything away.” To achieve such a feat, he employs his creativity to devise new dishes out of the food odds and ends that are leftover from making something bigger, usually a main entrée.
The trimmings from a main fish course get turned into ceviche. The bones are taken out and used for fish stock to fortify soups, cioppino or to glaze a pan.
Many of the restaurant’s dishes call for oyster mushrooms — but only the caps. The stems, which might otherwise be thrown away, are instead ground up and mixed in to flavor the homemade pasta.
The menu offers an ahi poke, and trimmings from the sushi-grade fish also get used to make a tuna salad.
On special recently was uni, or sea urchin. At $100 a box, the urchin is top shelf, but some of the individuals still come in slightly beaten up and not presentable for serving as a dinner special. Instead, they got a new life — so to speak — as uni butter drizzled over another special, a lobster tail stuffed with Dungeness crab.
“I really try not to waste anything,” Medall said. “Why would I throw away something I could sell?”
Medall said he was “born into the hotel business” and started out as a dishwasher working under his brother (who is now an executive chef at a top restaurant in Las Vegas). When he started working as a chef in smaller restaurants, he realized the food — and the money — didn’t go as far, and using every part of the vegetable or meat could really make a difference. Plus, when he started to see the depletion of crops and fish populations, it made sense to try to make the available yield go as far as it could.
“I believe the more you can use from one item, the less you’re taking from other crops,” Medall said. “Take shellfish for example. If we don’t change our fishing policies, we won’t have any in the next 10 years. It makes you respect the product.”
Medall has implemented his “no waste” policy in The Patio’s kitchen. The concept, he said, has caught on — with a bit of coaching.
“There are some challenges. Some of the less-experienced staff don’t always understand it,” he said. “They’ll bring me scraps and say, ‘Can you do something with this?’ The answer is always, ‘Yes!’”
The impromptu dishes don’t always come from trimmings in the kitchen. Medall has planted a garden behind the restaurant with everything from herbs and vegetables to leafy greens, all of which go into something in the restaurant, be it a salad, appetizer or cocktail.
On a recent afternoon, The Patio owner Gina Champion-Cain, who has her own garden, brought in some homegrown tomatoes and peppers, which Medall turned into gazpacho for the lunch menu.
“I like to eat well and healthy, I want to take it to another level by growing some stuff for the restaurant,” Champion-Cain said. “I looked for that in a chef [when hiring]. Some chefs will say they’re into that, but [Medall] practices what he preaches. He’s as passionate as me.”
So what advice does Medall have for amateur chefs cooking in the home, who may not have the training or eye for whipping together seemingly mismatched food scraps?
“Just use your imagination,” he said. “I always look for a mix of colors, textures and flavors. And experiment. Not everything will always turn out, but chances are, if you like the individual things by themselves, you’ll like them together.”
Medall didn’t always know how to throw odds and ends together to create a masterpiece. One day, years ago, his brother, the chef, stopped by his home and asked what there was to eat. Medall replied that there was nothing in the house, at least not enough for a meal. A few minutes later, he said, he heard cupboards being opened and the sounds of chopping and cutting. Then, “Ready for lunch?”
“I was amazed. He just took a few things here, a few things there and made an excellent meal,” Medall said.
Medall adopted the practice and hasn’t looked back.
Now, corn stalks are boiled down and turned into corn milk. Watermelon rinds get pickled and added to soup. Parts of a whole chicken are broken down and used for stock.
Even portions of meat that can’t be served with entrees get a second chance — fat and drippings from ribs are added to peanut butter and made into dog treats (The Patio is exceptionally dog friendly).
“In all my time here, I’ve only met one dog that wouldn’t accept my treats,” Medall said.
Whether it’s for the bottom line or out of moral duty — or both — Medall espouses the benefits of making the most out of the kitchen, and he’s happy to share recipes for those short on creativity.
“I just feel that there are farmers out there working hard to produce these crops,” he said. “If we respect that, it will all be around longer.”
For more information, visit www.thepatioonlamont.com.