One of the many lessons Americans who endured the Great Depression learned was how to make something out of seemingly nothing – to eat. Slumgullion was popular, an anything and everything stew fashioned from leftovers on the rare occasions when there were any.

It’s hard to believe that America today is a country that throws away 40% or more of the food it produces, enough to feed millions of the hungry people who live smack dab in the middle of plenty.

Thursday evening students from the Culinary Arts program at Central Campus vividly demonstrated that one man’s garbage can be another man’s banquet.

The Iowa Waste Reduction Center (IWRC) at the University of Northern Iowa is hosting the Midwest Food Recovery Summit at the Downtown Des Moines Marriott Hotel this week and the entrée topic is how to come up with a recipe for more food in stomachs and less in dumpsters.

Saving Scraps: A Culinary Competition was a friendly contest between two teams of student chefs designed to make a point by making a meal out of food that would otherwise have been trashed.

“Our students will provide entertainment with a message in the form of a cooking competition,” said CC Chef John Andres before the ingredients were unveiled in the hotel ballroom. “The Marriott saved food scraps throughout the week for use in the competition.”

Including frozen remnants from a wedding last weekend! Basics like flour and seasonings were brought along from the lab kitchen at Central Campus.

After seeing what they had to work with the teams had half an hour to plan menus followed by an additional hour to prepare them. Since their “kitchen” was a ballroom, the only heat sources were portable gas ranges. While they worked, their audience enjoyed hors d’oeuvres and cocktails.

You couldn’t tell the teams apart based on uniforms since everyone wore the same one – white jackets, striped aprons, checkered slacks, black hats and blue latex gloves. But they were distinguishable on another basis: three guys “coached” by Chef Andres; three gals “coached” by Monica Cross, a mentor chef who helps prep Andres’s students for ProStart, the nation’s premier culinary competition for high school students. The battle of the genders wasn’t by design, according to Andres, it just happened when he asked for volunteers in class.

Lea Hensel, Marketing Coordinator for IWRC, was one of the contest judges.

“We have 130 attendees here from 18 states, Washington DC and Canada,” she said. “Some are from the hospitality industry; others work in institutional foodservice. This event is a fun way to end today’s agenda and keep people thinking about the problem of excessive food waste at the same time.”

Joe Bolick, UNI’s Communications & Public Relations Manager; Business and Community Services, and Chef Andres go way back – to first grade in Waterloo, IA. So when Bolick and Hensel got the idea for adding a cooking competition to the conference, “I thought, ‘Hey, I know just the guy,’” Bolick said.

Andres is in his fourth year at Central and waste reduction hasn’t been an intentional part of his curriculum previously, any more than he tests his protégés on the spelling of W-o-r-c-e-s-t-e-r-s-h-i-r-e sauce.

“But maybe that will change,” he said. “This is definitely something to think about.”

School meal programs have historically been a prime contributor to food waste. That’s why the DMPS Food & Nutrition Department participates now in the Food Rescue program, whereby untouched packaged foods find their way into the “No Thank You” bin in school cafeterias for recycling.

Despite extremely unorthodox working conditions the two teams of apprentice foodies rose to the occasion. When all of the dust from sugar, flour, salt and pepper had settled, these were the results:

Best Tasting Award

A trio of sliders (vegetarian, beef with chipotle, and pork with charred pineapple and onion) and a dessert with crème anglaise, strawberry jam, brownie, and cookie crumble.

  • Michale Anderson
  • Ethan Burgett
  • Jude Charlton

Most Innovative Use of Scraps

Fresh pasta with pesto cream, stir-fry with pineapple teriyaki, and fried chicken with biscuits and bacon gravy.

  • Claire Meyer
  • Journee Perry
  • Alyssa Sharp

The “roundsman”/helper for both teams was Max Dixon.

Hmm, maybe it is possible to make chicken salad out of … just about anything that’s available.

Photos of the Saving Scraps Competition

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