Camilla Marcus

How to "Zero Waste" Your Own Kitchen

We asked renowned chef Camilla Marcus to tell us how it works.

If you’re hungry for change, you should meet Camilla Marcus. The chef and founder of the food company West-bourne is crusader for regenerative farming and zero waste; she also makes crazy delicious pancake mix (in compostable packaging, of course).

“You can’t separate how we eat from how we treat people,” says the restaurant activist, who lobbied to help hospitality workers stay afloat during the pandemic. “And you can’t separate how we treat people from how we treat the planet. It’s all the same thing!”

Here’s what else Camilla has to say about the best snacks, The Menu, and TK.

You fight for restaurants to embrace a “zero waste” method. What’s one thing getting in the way?

This false idea of perfection. Restaurants want to serve beautiful food, and that’s incredible. Being a chef is the ultimate combo of a left-brained and right-brained career. That’s amazing. But along the way, we’ve taken this idea of food-as-art and turned it into an excuse to throw away vegetables that don’t look “perfect,” or chuck half of every beet so the beet looks like a cherry. The byproduct of that kind of fantasy is trash.

So in The Menu—I mean, they have bigger problems! But transforming a slice of bread into a tiny island isn’t ideal, huh?

Not if they’re not using the rest of the bread in an edible way. The other issue, really, is food education. When I was coming up in culinary school, food waste and food engineering weren’t being taught. We composted everything, but we didn’t talk about the environmental impact on our food, and that’s something we really need to learn from the ground up now!

What’s your advice for reducing food waste in our own kitchens, without going nuts?

It starts with how you shop for food. What are you buying? How will you use this whole vegetable or whole fruit? Can you be more intentional? And if you’re making something from a cookbook—which is great—how can you use the ingredients after you’ve made that one recipe you want to try? The same way when you buy an item of clothing, you ask, “What does this go with? Where can I wear it?” You’ve got to have the same kind of mindset about food.

What's your favorite vegan swap for a meat ingredient?

My entire food philosophy is about cooking the real food that’s right in front of you, and doing it beautifully. I’m not like, “This is squash, and now I will make it look and taste just like meat!” I want you to know how gorgeous the squash is, and how many different ways you can cook it to make it taste like amazing squash.

You’re a vocal advocate for providing childcare to restaurant workers. (Yay!) What’s the connection between childcare and planet-care?

Oh! Everything! Everything. Because sustainability starts at the source. The way that we learn to eat and the way we learn to consume food begins as kids. The more we keep parents in the workforce, and keep parents happy and fulfilled, the more we help them give the happiest and most nourishing experiences to their families and communities. The highest waste elements of food are the cheapest, right? The hugest sources of plastic, malnutrition, water contamination—that all happens when incomes go down. Nobody should have to choose between going to work and caring for their child. That’s a false binary and it harms us all.

As a restaurant pro, how do you handle leftovers?

I call it the “Top Chef Challenge!” I’ve been doing it since I was 19. It’s basically a “no crumb left behind” rule. You look at what’s leftover and then use Google to figure out what you can cook from it. It’ll usually be things like soups, skillet rice, quick noodles with toppings, pasta sauce… One of our products is naturally gluten-free pie crust. It takes less than 10 minutes to make, and one of the reasons we created it was to help with leftovers. You throw in your leftover veggies, add cheese, bake in the pie crust, and it’s so delicious! I call it the “Garbage Galette.” It works as a quiche, too. It’s not going to look like a perfect gourmet meal, but it’s going to taste unbelievable.

You’re an avocado evangelist. Why?

Avocado oil is great because it has a very high smoke point and high nutritional factor. Avocado is a superfood with a very neutral flavor, so you can use it to bake, roast, sautee, fry, and it’s always going to be nutrient-dense. It also helps with biodiversity; we can’t only be planting corn!

Do you have a favorite fact about an animal? Please tell us!

I wanted to be a vet when I was younger, so I know a ton of random animal facts—and now that I have kids, they’re obsessed with sharks and whales, so I can talk all about those. But something I think is cool is that pandas eat so much bamboo that they use a lot of energy to digest and metabolize it. That’s why they’re slow movers—because their bodies are using all their energy to work on that food!

Another chef, Oliver English, told us that everyone can cook. As someone who literally burned a tortilla last night, I still don’t believe him. Help.

I would say cook something you really love. People say, “everything starts with an omelet,” or “everything starts with roast chicken,” but if you don’t like eggs or you’re vegan, don’t do that! Also, pick music you can jam out to. We would always have debates in the restaurant about whether you should cook with music or cook silently, and I swear, the food tastes better if you’re rocking out.