Cory Headshot

The Challenge to End Food Waste

Chef Cory Tomaino has always had a passion for food.

He began to deeply explore the culinary world in a 4-year vocational program for culinary arts in high school, learning the importance of critical knife skills and basic kitchen management. And he was hooked. Cory continued to explore the culinary field in college at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI earning a BS in Culinary Arts & Food Service Management. While at college, Cory had the opportunity to intern at one of the world’s most decorated restaurants, Eleven Madison Park.

After graduating from college, Cory joined FLIK Hospitality Group, a leading corporate dining and hospitality company, providing quality and nutritious meals with a wellness-first approach to over 800 businesses, schools, conference centers and professional athletics training facilities nationwide. As a Sous Chef with FLIK Hospitality in New York City, Cory has explored developing more sustainable recipes and practices in the kitchen. Cory loves celebrating seasonal, local foods; finding creative ways to reduce food waste in all his recipes and introduce his guests to new, innovative dishes.

And now, he's showcasing his talents on a grand scale! 

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On May 23rd, Cory is headed to the Brooklyn Navy Yards to compete in the Zero Waste Challenge, a culinary competition (and sampling event) to taste "upcycled" ingredients in delicious new ways.

The competition is hosted by the The Foundation for New York’s Strongest, the official nonprofit organization of the New York City Department of Sanitation. NYC businesses throw away more than 650,000 tons of food annually, but our chefs know better. Leveraging FLIK to Stem recipes and other creative tips in the kitchen, we're driving attention 

We sat down with Cory ahead of the big competition to hear more about why he's excited to compete against some big name chefs: 

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Cory, tell us why you submitted your name to the Food Waste Fair? What inspired you to want to compete in the Zero Waste Challenge?

As chefs, we have a direct impact on food waste. For my part, I try to learn something new everyday, figuring out how to reduce food waste and what we contribute to the landfills is a challenge I will always welcome. Plus, I thought it would be awesome if I was actually selected as a finalist. 

How important is sustainability and reducing food waste for you? Can you give us an example of how you combat food waste in your café?

Sustainability is something I have been learning about since my first class at Johnson & Wales University. Purchasing locally and seasonally is the best way for anyone to be able to know exactly where their food is coming from, while also supporting the small farms and local businesses. Even when I cook at home with my family and friends, I am always avoiding food waste. Sometimes I get made fun of for the extra steps I take to avoid throwing something out if I know I can use it in something else or use it later.

That's what it always comes down to: taking the small extra step to avoid throwing something out.

People don't know how much usable product we throw out as a country. One third of food is thrown away! That number is outrageous. The greenhouse gas emissions produced by landfills and how many resources we use throughout the supply chain just to receive our food- all for us to discard a third of it is unbelievable. What make's it even worse is realizing how many people are still going hungry or having to skip meals because of food access. 

Any effort we can make to impact this is a positive, and it starts with each of us.

In our café, we combat food waste in a number of ways. We give value to the underutilized parts of vegetables. For example, slaw or soup from our broccoli stems; tomato tops and bottoms for marinara; pepper top sofrito; cilantro oil from stems. If the parts of the vegetable is inedible we use that to make our own stocks like our carrot, onion and celery skins and roots, and bones from the bone-in products we purchase. We also control production with the use of prep and production sheets with recipes at each station so we minimize overproducing. Any extra food we creatively re-purpose wherever we can. 

Tell us a little bit about the dish you’re making. What inspired you to create this dish for the challenge?

For this challenge, I decided I wanted to incorporate underutilized stems from herbs and vegetables in Korean fusion tacos with house-made kimchi. Stems always seem to be a hot topic when talking about food waste, and fusion is still trendy so I combined the two to use as the base to my dish. 

Korean cuisine uses a large amount of fermented products and they are a great addition in any recipe, which made me think to use gochujang. Gochujang is a sweet-savory Chile paste that has great flavor and is very popular, so I wanted to use it with a less popular protein: hanger steak. I decided I was going to use stems in every other part of the dish to show how they can be used beyond just their leaves. After we used the leaves for our cafe, I saved stems from soft herbs such as parsley, basil, cilantro, and tarragon. I finely chopped them and incorporated them into the masa tortilla, along with some lime zest to give the taco some extra flavor. I thought I would need something to mellow out the heat from the gochujang so I blended some more herb stems with the juice of the limes and sour cream to put on top of the taco as a crema. Then I decided to do a broccoli stem slaw with the end of the chives that usually get chopped off since they are not as round, some pickled mustard seeds, and toss them together in the crema. Taking it one step further, I thinly sliced all the stems from our daily vegetable side of Swiss chard and prepared them the same way you would make a tradition kimchi. And there it is: gochujang hanger steak and "stem" tacos. 

You’re going up against some intense competitors! Why do you think you’ll be the winner of the Zero Waste Challenge? What’s your competitive edge?

SHEESH - No kidding! I'm up against some unbelievable chefs in this competition, and congratulations to them for taking a stand on food waste and doing this challenge. 

But before submitting the recipe I talked to my team at BD, and my colleagues Elizabeth Halle, Emily Peterson, Jeff Cavanaugh, and Paul Pontarelli. They all helped me brainstorm and come up with a dish I'm very proud of and excited to represent FLIK with. I've got a strong game plan, but my competitive edge is the rock star team I'm bringing with me to the event. They've all got great experience with high standards, and we know we can hang with the best of 'em! 

Come support Chef Cory at the challenge. Tickets are available here


What We Were Talking About in 2018: Tofu Cucumber Banh Mi

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