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Meet the Chef Who Will Change How the World Thinks About Wasting Food

Ice cream made from leftover bread? Coffee grounds into miso? For Matt Orlando, nothing is off limits.

The meal at Amass begins a bit unexpectedly, though maybe it shouldn’t be surprising at all. Before the first course ever arrives, the diner has already ventured to a rough-hewn industrial stretch on Copenhagen’s outskirts and sat down inside an old shipyard building to eat dinner surrounded by exposed concrete walls covered in elegantly rendered graffiti. The space is brutalist yet refined, softened by leather dining chairs and smoked-oak tables. Still, it’s not exactly what you’re accustomed to seeing in a world-renowned restaurant.

The server announces the tasting menu will start with bread, but what arrives is a bowl of large, puffy chips with dip on the side. Despite its appearance, the server assures, this is bread—or, at least, it was bread. The restaurant’s day-old, house-made bread has been soaked, pureed, mixed with tapioca, flattened, dried and then fried to a crisp. It’s delicious. And this quirky bit of alchemy is revelatory.

Restaurants churn out food waste every day. And at most places, leftovers get tossed in the garbage or compost heap. At best, day-old bread is turned into croutons. Chef-owner Matt Orlando has made it his mission to do better. In addition to leading Amass to reduce its carbon footprint, curtail water usage and become a leader in sustainability, Orlando has pushed his staff to see food by-products not as waste but as a valuable supply of ingredients that can spark creativity. And from the test kitchen he’s opened—not to create new dishes but to invent new sustainable processes—he’s poised to spread his message that eco-friendly food can be enjoyable too.

Duck at Amass restaurant

Orlando’s duck  Cory Smith

Before Amass, the California-born-and-bred Orlando had worked his way through some of the world’s best kitchens, with stints at Per Se, Le Bernardin and the Fat Duck, eventually becoming the chef de cuisine at Noma in Copenhagen. In 2013, he ventured out on his own, opening Amass in a place that had remained mostly fallow since the Burmeister & Wain shipyard closed in 1996. Orlando had grown to love the city but wanted to serve food a little bolder and richer than the New Nordic cuisine dominating the scene. He didn’t set out to create a culture of sustainability and eco-consciousness. “We definitely opened Amass with a mind-set that is no different than any other restaurant,” Orlando says. It wouldn’t take long for that outlook to change.

Six months on, Orlando tucked Amass in for a brief winter hibernation, giving himself time to step back from the daily grind. He realized he wanted Amass to stand for something more than a world-class meal: He wanted it to become a sustainable restaurant. As the vacation ended, he regathered his team and challenged them to change their ways. Could they reduce their food waste, carbon footprint and water usage while still serving high-level food?

Orlando at work in the Amass kitchen

Orlando at work in the Amass kitchen  Cory Smith

The surfeit of spent coffee grounds became the early nemesis. “We came across a fact that made us go, ‘Wow,’ ” Orlando says. His team learned that, if you brew all the coffee beans you buy, you’re still using less than one percent of the nutrients. “The beans that have gone through growing, transportation from Africa or South America, roasting, transportation again to get to you, and brewing—we throw away 99 percent of it.”

In a corner of the restaurant’s kitchen, Orlando and his chefs became obsessed with turning the grounds into something tasty enough to incorporate into new dishes. They transformed spent coffee into crackers and brownies, brewed it into beers, ground it into flour to bake into bread, fermented it like miso—and more.

“We made a lavender, black bean and coffee miso that blew my mind,” Orlando says. “Coffee grounds were our gateway drug. It showed us the potential of examining a product everyone disregards as having no value and adding value by figuring out all the ways to process it.”

Orlando's dried tomato skins

Orlando’s dried tomato skins  Chris Tonnesen

The rethinking of waste has fit into a broader sustainability goal at the restaurant. Since 2015, Amass has partnered, first, with the San Francisco–based Zero Foodprint and then with the University of Copenhagen to analyze the restaurant’s overall carbon footprint. The results have given Orlando and his staff a path forward.

The analyses taught them, for instance, that lamb’s carbon footprint—because, frankly, baby sheep are gassy little devils for their size—is significantly higher than that of pork or even beef, so they stopped serving it. Amass used only 82 nitrous-oxide-charged whipped-cream canisters in a year (some restaurants go through 50 per week), but they accounted for one percent of its total carbon emissions, so those were discontinued too. And fish caught by trawling with industrial-size nets can produce up to 10 times as much carbon-dioxide emissions as line-caught fish, because of the fuel needed to drag the net through the ocean, so Amass ensured its supply comes from lower-impact methods, including fishing with line as well as with gill or seine nets, which capture fewer unintended species. The restaurant cut water usage by collecting all partially full bottles at tables, boiling the water and then using it to irrigate the garden or wash the floors at the end of the night.

The Amass dining room

The Amass dining room  Chris Tonnesen

A fine-dining restaurant produces as much as 25 kilograms of carbon dioxide per guest. Amass, with the team’s efforts, dropped its average from 18 kilos per guest to 12. The restaurant’s hard work and tangible results have earned respect among its peers.

“They’ll even do a small thing. Like recently they stopped using plastic wrap, and then you see all of a sudden all these other restaurants are not using plastic wrap anymore,” says executive chef Andy Doubrava of Michelin-starred Rustic Canyon, a farm-to-table restaurant in Santa Monica, Calif. “He’s the trendsetter when it comes to sustainability. And he’s one of the first I saw embrace the no-waste ethos but not in a trendy way. They don’t waste anything, and it’s inspiring because it’s not easy to do that.”

The strides Amass’s team has made have only fueled Orlando’s ambition. When the beer-loving chef opened his brewery, Broaden & Build, last January, he carved out a space for a test kitchen. It has given Amass’s director of research and development, Kim Wejendorp, a dedicated place to experiment on food waste and develop further sustainable processes for the restaurant and beyond. That commitment drew the attention of Copenhagen bakery Jalm&B.

Japanese knotweed accompanies grilled squid

Japanese knotweed accompanies grilled squid  Chris Tonnesen

Hoping to do more with its old bread than make croutons, Jalm&B partnered with Carlsberg brewery’s subsidiary Jacobsen in 2018. Jacobsen brewed a beer with the bakery’s unsold bread, and Jalm&B baked a bread from upcycled hazelnuts the brewery had used in its winter beer. In the wake of the collaboration, the bakery team kept its eyes open for other potential partners.

“We’re something in between that small local bakery and an industrial producer,” says Jalm&B’s marketing manager, Martin Marko Hansen. “We’ve got a bit more power than a small bakery, but we’re not so big that we are scared of these creative projects. And for us, sustainability is about having only a few ingredients and not all these additives, and we could tell that’s the goal of the team at Amass as well.”

Hansen, who has a background as a chef, approached Orlando and Wejendorp about working together. Over coffee they batted around a few ideas, none of which seemed quite right. Then Orlando asked, “How much bread do you produce every day that you can’t sell and have to throw away?” Turns out there were often irregular loaves that didn’t fit in the bakery’s bags or didn’t ferment the right way, so they couldn’t be sold. Hansen and team agreed to drop off some old bread at the test kitchen to see what Amass could make of it.

Orlando at work in the Amass kitchen

Orlando at work in the Amass kitchen  Chris Tonnesen

Orlando and Wejendorp made dessert. Taking a cue from Broaden & Build, they covered the bread with water, then warmed it to the point at which the starches broke down to a liquid sugar. They reduced that, added a little dairy and spun it into an ice cream that, if someone didn’t tell you otherwise, you’d think was flavored with honey, despite having no added sugar.

Hansen wasn’t expecting ice cream, but he was pleasantly surprised. “I was hoping for the taste of bread, and I got it—it has a really nice malty flavor to it with notes of salt, and you can taste the grains,” he says. The ice cream also excited Jalm&B’s team because it’s both an upcycled product and a perennial favorite that would connect with the general consumer. “We tested it at the [2019] Copenhagen Cooking & Food Festival and got a great response,” Hansen says. Jalm&B has reached out to Irma, the Copenhagen equivalent of Whole Foods, and he says, “We didn’t agree on anything yet, but they’re keen to work with us. And we contacted an ice-cream producer to see how this could be scalable.”

For Orlando, the ice cream has been a game changer: “Kim and I looked at each other and almost said simultaneously, ‘What kind of impact could we have if we worked with more large industrial producers?’” They could find a big food company, identify a waste stream, then make it into something they could turn around and sell.

Orlando's pickled green strawberries

Orlando’s pickled green strawberries  Chris Tonnesen

“As soon as you start talking about finances with these larger companies, all of a sudden their ears perk up,” Orlando says. “But I don’t care if you’re a tree hugger or some large-scale industrial producer—as long as you’re working with us and doing something that has a positive impact on the environment, I don’t care what your intentions are. Sometimes you have to play into people’s materialism to move an agenda forward.”

Which brings them back to the coffee beans. The Amass test kitchen’s latest trials are at the behest of the Danish government (along with other food companies) to extract any potential protein trapped in the grounds. “We have been trying to master these cookies where we replace the flour with milled coffee grounds,” Orlando says. “The technique is there, along with the flavor, but the texture is horrible. We have two of the three parts of the process. That’s enough to keep us going.” So the chefs continue to test, taste and create food from previously discarded by-products. If they succeed, they’ll not only make great food but get people to embrace a more sustainable mind-set in which, as Orlando tells his team, “it’s not food waste, it’s food wasted.”

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