clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Is Whole Vegetable Cooking the Next Culinary Frontier?

Chicago chefs find new ways to cook old vegetables

Asparagus soup at Forbidden Root
Asparagus soup at Forbidden Root

That side of beef isn't the only ingredient getting the nose-to-tail treatment in Chicago restaurants. Chefs are taking a no-waste approach to this season's vegetables, preparing them from stem to stern, root to tip.


Travelle's parsley and lemon risotto with grilled head-on prawns and fennel fronds

"I was taught to look at food waste as if it were money," says Ricardo Jarquin, executive chef at Travelle. "I had the pleasure of working with a very strict Italian chef. One of his main rules in the kitchen was that no one was allowed to throw away food scraps without one of his sous chefs or himself looking at it first. I found it to be weird at first until I noticed some of the things he would come up with using the waste. Vegetable scraps would get turned into pasta fillings, tomato cores would be cooked down with sugar, vinegar, and vanilla for the burrata dish we had on the menu, mushroom scraps would get turned into stock for our mushroom polenta—the list went on and on."

Today, English pea pods are used with parmesan rinds and onion scraps in stock that is the base of Travelle's mascarpone and pea filled tortellini; celery hearts, celery leaves, and fennel fronds accent the panzanella salad; and parsley pulp adds flavor to parsley and lemon risotto. He's not the only chef taking such a pragmatic approach with produce. See how other kitchens are practicing whole-vegetable cooking.


Cantina 1910 goes though a lot of tomatoes. Specifically, Mighty Vine tomatoes are featured throughout the summer menu. The remnants of these juicy gems are combined with garlic and jalapeños, processed in a Robot Coupe and hung in cheesecloth overnight. "The tasty goodness that drips from it in the morning is an almost clear liquid that bursts with spicy tomato flavor. We use this liquid as an acid for our scallop ceviche," says executive chef Scott Shulman. After the hanging process, the tomato pulp is dehydrated to create a umami-flavored powder that is used to season mole and crudité.


Jeff Mahin, a California-based chef who splits his time between the West Coast and Midwest, has an affinity for fresh produce and making the most of their short-lived seasons. At Summer House Santa Monica, celery takes center stage in his slow fried celery root with creme fraiche. Mahin uses the celery root because it boasts the same crisp flavor as the stalks with an added earliness. By slow frying it, the final dish has the texture of a baked potato but the flavor of celery.


"We're always mindful of waste and we try to eliminate it wherever we can in the kitchen," says Cosmo Goss, chef de cuisine at The Publican. "For example, we'll typically use beet greens to garnish the beet salad or use carrot tops to make pesto. If these parts of the vegetable are still nice and delicious, why waste them?" Those aforementioned beet greens are currently served with roasted Genesis Growers beets, labneh, walnut aillade, red onion, and aged balsamic.


Those pesky little leaves that stick off the sides of asparagus stalks are put to good use at Forbidden Root. After serving the asparagus tops with fried poached egg with kimchi hollandaise, executive chef Dan Weiland turns the scraps into asparagus soup that is served with pork belly, preserved lemon jam, goat cheese, and basil. "The flavor is amazing and it allows me to use up everything I have with minimal waste," he says.


Grilled elk loin with Maitake mushrooms, and mushroom vinaigrette at TWO


Morel mushrooms may be long gone for the season, but lucky diners can still find a few lingering on the menu at TWO. "At TWO, we're using a lot of odd vegetable scraps in our dishes to minimize our waste," says executive chef Kevin Cuddihee. "We dry and grind mushroom all of our stems to make powders out of them." Morel mushroom powder is used to flavor mushroom vinaigrette. This dresses a pea shoot salad that appears alongside grilled elk loin and maitake mushrooms.


"I've always liked broccoli stems better than the florets. I think they are sweeter and have a great texture, both raw and cooked," says Ryan Sand, executive chef at Bernie's Lunch & Supper. Roasted broccoli florets and stems are dressed with romesco sauce, spring onions, chili poached raisins, and goat cheese. Freshly shaved raw broccoli stems are the finishing touch, to add a bit of crunchy broccoli texture.


Carrot tops are not only the name of a has-been comedian, but also a vibrant addition to summer dishes. Executive chef Shaun Connolly turns the tops into pesto or, as is the case at Presidio, carrot-coconut chutney. "Vegetable greens are always great to reserve and use as a flavor enhancer with the final dish," says Connolly. "Carrot greens are herbal and slightly bitter in taste with a subtle carrot flavor which is a perfect way to compliment the ingredients in this dish." The chutney served over whole roasted carrots.


The cauliflower spine, as chef Edward Kim likes to call it due to its resemblance of an animal spine, takes center stage at Ruxbin. The cored of the plant is often discarded after the florets are removed, however, Kim channels its full flavor potential by searing it and then roasting it in brown butter. It is serve with capers and lemon confit. "It celebrates a part of the vegetable that is usually viewed as scrap and converts it into something highly coveted," he says. This dish appears on the menu as a spacial alongside one of his regular items—tempura cauliflower.


After artichokes hearts are used in a popular halibut dish at North Pond, chef Bruce Sherman turns his attention to the leaves. With the notoriously tough leaves, he makes pasta. Fresh artichoke shells are served with English peas, herbed goat cheese, basil rye crumb, candied violets, and calendula petals. "It's a great challenge to creatively utilize as much of the products as we can, to get closer to zero food waste in the kitchen while also increasing bottom line," he says.


330 N Wabash Ave Fl 2, Chicago, IL 60611 312-923-7705 Visit Website

Ruxbin Kitchen

851 North Ashland Avenue, Chicago, IL 60642

Forbidden Root

1746 West Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622 (312) 929-2202 Visit Website


1132 W Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60642 (312) 624-8363 Visit Website


1749 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

The Publican

837 West Fulton Market, , IL 60607 (312) 733-9555 Visit Website

Bernie's Lunch & Supper

660 North Orleans Street, , IL 60654 (312) 624-9892 Visit Website

Summer House Santa Monica

1954 North Halsted Street, , IL 60614 (773) 634-4100 Visit Website

North Pond

2610 North Cannon Drive, , IL 60614 (773) 477-5845 Visit Website