If you owned a Taiwanese dumpling shop in New York City, what would you do with all of the produce scraps that were leftover after making the handful of dumplings on your menu? Sure, you could throw them into a pot with water and make a flavorful stock. Realistically, most scraps are likely to wind up in the compost bin contributing to the 1.3 billion tons of food that is wasted around the world each year. But what if you could make another dumpling from those scraps?
That’s exactly what the sisters and owners of Mimi Cheng’s in Manhattan are doing this month in collaboration with wastED, a community of food professionals—from chefs to farmers—who are committed to decreasing food waste by repurposing food scraps. Hannah and Marian Cheng teamed up with well-known chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill and culinary director Adam Kayne to put their bok choy, zucchini, and kale scraps to good use. The wastED dumpling is a mix of Mimi Cheng’s typically discarded produce with a peanut-ginger sauce. The dumplings are available at Mimi Cheng’s Nolita and East Village locations for the entire month of February.
We spoke with Hannah and Marian about why they got involved with the cause and what they hope this collaboration will accomplish.
Were the bits and pieces of food that you’re using for this dumpling previously being tossed in the trash?
All the fresh vegetable scraps that we didn’t use were being composted or saved for stock, but now they are going straight into our wastED dumpling. Many of our friends wrinkled their faces when they asked us about this “waste dumpling.” There is nothing different about carrot skin peels versus apple skin peels. We are merely accustomed to eating one and not the other. The biodegradable food that gets dumped into landfills instead of being composted properly releases greenhouse gasses. We are lucky to live in a country where we don’t see these landfills, but perhaps we’d all be spurred to take more action if we did have to see it on a daily basis. We hope that our community will try the wastED dumpling and rethink what they eat and throw out in their own kitchens.
Fun fact: Composting is great for the environment, and according to a report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, 180 U.S. cities and counties collect food scraps through composting programs.
Was it difficult to come up with a recipe for a dumpling that uses these odds and ends? How did you decide what to use for this dumpling?
It definitely takes extra creativity to repurpose these edible odds and ends. Luckily, Dan and Adam helped us out. We told them what vegetables we had to work with, and they whipped up a delicious dumpling with those ingredients.
We first heard and experienced wastED for ourselves at our friends’ 30th birthday celebration at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Part of the hors d’oeuvres was their signature beet burger made with juice pulp from local juice shops, which was turned into a delicious beet burger patty and with a bun made from spent grain. We didn’t even think twice about eating “waste” when it tasted that good.
What was the collaboration process like with wastED?
It’s a dream for us! Not only do we get to work with chefs that we look up to but our collaboration will hopefully raise awareness about the food that is wasted around the world each year. The creativity and responsibility of utilizing food properly falls on all of us, from the most famous restaurants in the world to small family-owned restaurants like ours to everyday home cooks.
Are you going to continue to make dumplings with leftover veggies after February?
We change our monthly dumplings regularly, but doing this collaboration has definitely challenged the way we think about food scraps. We are always striving to be more creative and resourceful when it comes to cooking and using what we have.
Lastly, for those who haven’t been to Mimi Cheng’s, what would you say is unique or different about Taiwanese dumplings?
We like to analogize Taiwanese dumplings to Chinese dumplings (and similarly styled dumplings) as thin New York–style pizza versus deep dish Chicago-style pizza. Taiwanese dumplings are known for their thin, chewy skins and delicate and light fillings. Chinese dumplings, especially in the north, are known for their very thick and doughy dumpling wrappers with heavier and meatier fillings. These difference are reflective of each country’s climates, as Taiwan is a tropical island and northern China gets very cold.
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