Getting wastED: Dan Barber’s Foodie Revolution

Getting wastED: Dan Barber’s Foodie Revolution

Dan Barber is on a mission to radically change the way we
think about food waste with his revolutionary pop-up restaurant,
wastED. Together with family members and fellow
co-founders, Laureen and David Barber, the trio are tearing up the
narrative of how we think about waste across food, dining and

First taking place in New York, and most
recently on the rooftop of London‘s iconic
Selfridges department store, the transatlantic pop-up offered an
ambitious menu built from cuts of ingredients usually discarded and
left for the trash.

Boasting a roulette of the some of world’s most highly respected
chefs, the star-studded line-up has featured culinary heroes
Dominique Ansel, April Bloomfield, Daniel Humm and Alain Ducasse in
New York, while Raymond Blanc, Fergus Henderson, Isaac McHale, Nuno
Mendes and Gordon Ramsay all took to the pass in London.

Entire communities of chefs and mixologists came together to
swap and share produce, working together to devise delicious dishes
from non-traditional ingredients which are usually ignored. The
interiors, curated by Laureen Barber, also came from designers
working with otherwise discarded materials, so that everything from
the tables to the uniforms were sustainably sourced and upcycled. A
huge undertaking, the project had true grassroots beginnings.

It all started on a dairy farm in upstate New York, acquired as
part of a life-long dream by Dan and David’s grandmother. Soon came
New York farm-to-fork restaurants Blue Hill Manhattan and Blue
Hill at Stone Barns
, where the menus showcase produce from the

But it was Dan’s book, The Third Plate, that was the
real catalyst of the wastED movement, offering up a whole new way
of eating. We caught up with the trio to talk about the inspiration
behind the movement, changing minds and winning hearts on both
sides of the Atlantic, and their long-term mission to change food
and farming forever.

It’s such an all-encompassing project. How did the concept of
wastED all begin?

David: Blue Hill Farm was a place tied our
childhood and so that has a particularly personal meaning. A lot of
what we were learned there comes down to personal interest and
passion, which gave us the starting point for sure.

Dan: In writing my book, The Third Plate, I
looked at cuisines from all around the world and how they came
about in culture. A lot of them stem from peasants, eating simply
from what the land could provide; they didn’t have the luxury of
calling something waste because there just wasn’t enough available.
Instead, they created delicious dishes that ended up becoming
iconic. People might consider French cuisine to be the epitome of
high-end luxurious food. When the right techniques are applied –
braised in a little oxidised wine for example – it becomes not
waste chicken, but coq au vin. Bouillabaisse was the damaged fish,
which the fishermen’s wives used to make into a stew while their
husbands sold the regular fish at the market. They didn’t call it
waste, they called it bouillabaisse.

So this was the inspiration behind the menu. How did you design
the dishes?

Dan: We wanted to create a coveted dish with
the things we throw away, to show that they can be spectacular. Not
just historic examples, but brand new creations to bring stuff into
a modern concept. Restaurants are a great place to be creative,
having the collective creativity of other chefs brought along even
more inspiration.

You’ve collaborated with some of the biggest names in New York
and London. Were there big differences in style?

The most interesting part was the similarities. I saw the same
kind of community and interest and introspection and curiosity.
Every one of the chefs just got the idea immediately, and some
brought dishes directly from their menu which was so fascinating.
It means chefs and restaurants are dealing with food waste all the
time, we just don’t wear it on our sleeves – wastED was an
opportunity to wear it on our sleeves. And I think that’s where the
culture starts to change.

Design also played a huge role. Was this a vision from the very

Laureen: Our philosophy was that every single part of the
project should support the ethos. If our guests were going to come
into contact with something, it needed to be a part of the vision.
We weren’t just looking great design, but stories that were going
to resonate and really have some depth to them.

Are there parallels in the food and design industry?

Laureen: In terms of sustainability and being
ecologically minded, the world has moved in that direction. This
idea of repurposing has gone to a different level, people are
looking at the land and finding naturally abundant products like
seaweed and figuring out a completely different use for them under
the umbrella of design. The parallels are there, because we have
such a need to protect our planet and we’re more aware than ever

How do you go about moving an entire restaurant overseas?

David: We could never have predicted that it
was going to go so far. From knowing how crazy the first one was in
New York, the idea of doing it across the pond really did make us
think “What are we doing?!”

Laureen: That we would be in London, a city I
admire so much, was a dream come true! It’s the people who made it
possible and we leaned heavily on others.

It sounds like project’s been built on relationships.

Laureen: Yes, absolutely. It might sound cliché
but there’s been this sense of community, it’s really true that
everybody knows somebody. New York and London feel so close to us

And finally, can you share your top picks for New York and

Dan: I barely left the kitchen in London! But
on the last day I got out a bit early and went down to The Dairy
which was extraordinary – I highly recommend it. In New York,
you’ve got to come to Stone Barns.

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