When Terence Rogers started his catering business, TBD Foods, in 2014, he realized that a lot of leftover ingredients like strawberry tops, potato skins, and kale stems were being discarded after meals. While honing his skills in Boston kitchens, he heard about a restaurant in Copenhagen that operated a fine-dining restaurant and a casual sister brunch joint by divvying up ingredients between the two restaurants to use whole foods and minimize waste. So Rogers decided to create something similar in Denver, and in July 2020, opened Sullivan Scrap Kitchen in City Park West, which incorporates scraps and ingredients that would otherwise be tossed from the catering business into creative dishes for the restaurant. At the casual eatery, diners can feel better about what they eat with delicious, earth-friendly entrées such as green chile migas with lamb neck, pancakes and sopapillas made from sourdough discard, and sage-scented gnocchi tossed with kale-stem pesto.
“A lot of times with catering there’s a little more element of fine dining. People want a really nice steak or really nice piece of fish, but there’s only so many of those per animal,” Rogers says. “So we wanted to be able to find different avenues to utilize some of the products that we were getting.”
In addition to repurposing scraps, Sullivans also sources its ingredients locally with producers like River Bear American Meats and Buckner Family Ranch, as well as offering compostable to-go containers. For Rogers, it’s important to be sustainable because “we want to be doing this for a long time,” he says. “If we want things to last and have long-term success, focusing things on a more sustainable approach just seems like the sensible and right thing to do for our environment.”
In honor of Earth Day, we caught up with Rogers to learn how Denverites can make more sustainable choices in their home kitchens, from reimagining veggie scraps to learning to break down—and use—a whole animal.
Don’t Toss, Compost
One of the simplest and easiest things you can do to make your home more sustainable is to compost. “It’s an easy way to cut out the excess food,” Rogers says. “You can put in tea bags, paper towels that have been used, and compostable containers.” Weekly compost collection is available to Denverites for $117 per year, and compost from the program can be purchased for $7 a bag at Ace Hardware locations around town to take home and use in your garden. “It’s nice when you can have something that directly goes to compost and that gets turned into something that can be used by yourself or others in the city,” he says. “I think composting is a really good starting point [to combat food waste].”
Reevaluate the Sell-By Date
Another way to be kind in the kitchen is to be flexible with sell-by dates on perishable items. “All these dates that you get from the store, they’re just a recommendation—they’re not like a hard line of ‘this is gonna go bad this exact date,’” Rogers says. He recommends looking closely at your food when deciding whether to throw it out—smell and taste it to see if it’s truly expired. Milk, for instance: “It’s probably good for another two or three days depending on the quality and how it’s made,” Rogers says.
While there’s a time and a place to prioritize fresh foods (raw fish and proteins are best consumed fresh, Rogers says), sustainable practices like freezing can help reduce waste. “A lot of times, frozen stuff is just as good [as fresh food], depending on how you’re using it,” he says. “If you’re putting spinach in your smoothie and you’ve got some spinach in the fridge that’s starting to go bad, you can just throw that in the freezer and you’re never going to notice the difference in taste if it’s in a smoothie or a stew. You can always freeze your stuff and come back to it later.”
Learn to Break Down a Bird
To make meat-eating more sustainable, Rogers suggests learning to break down a whole chicken or fish, creating cooking-friendly cuts at home. “If you can cut an onion, I feel like you can break down a chicken,” he says. “It’s fairly straightforward, and then you can get an appreciation for using the whole animal.”
Aside from roasting the chicken breasts, Rogers recommends braising the legs for pasta dishes, tacos, or soup. You can also render fat or make homemade chicken stock from the wings and bones—a practice that not only yields healthy, delicious pantry staples, but makes use of the entire bird. “I feel like chicken is like the perfect way to dip your toes into [using the whole animal],” he says. “It’s a very approachable, easy, quick thing that if you do eat meat, it’s just a different way to look at how you eat meat and how much you can get out of just one animal versus buying only boneless, skinless chicken breasts.”
Save Veggie Scraps
Reimagining vegetable scraps are one of the most versatile ways to cut back on food waste, Rogers says. Instead of consuming only the most pristine parts, save your kale or mushroom stems, onion skins, beet or ginger peels, and carrot tops for stocks, soups, risottos, and sauces. At Sullivans, he makes a beet-and-ginger simple syrup using just the peels from the roots. Or after roasting beets, he’ll remove the skins and place them in white balsamic vinegar to create a seasoned vinegar for salad dressings. “You might not be able to eat every part of the vegetable—just like you can’t eat a bone,” he says. “But at least there’s flavor there that you can extract, whether through syrups or stocks or turning those maybe less pristine pieces into a soup or a puree or folding it into rice or something. You can really find a way to utilize almost all of the vegetable pieces.”
For example, try your hand at some of Rogers’s go-to uses for veggie scraps:
Chile pepper tops: Place in oil or vinegar to make homemade chile infusions.
Onion skins and vegetable offcuts: Throw in a gallon-size bag or container in your freezer and make stock when it’s full.
Kale stems: Blanch stems and run them through a food processor to make a pesto base.
Stale quinoa: Deep fry to make crispy salad toppings.
Broccoli, kale, and mushroom stems: Pulverize in a food processor and mix with beans for veggie burgers.
Potato skins: Deep fry to make chips or nachos.
Shop at Farmers’ Markets
“Supporting your local farmers and ranchers is a great way to focus on food sustainability,” Rogers says—especially when you shop with vendors who maintain healthy soil or emphasize organic practices and animal welfare. “If more people [shop sustainably], hopefully that just becomes the norm and we can start to move away from factory farming and factory ranching,” he says.
If you go to the markets late in the day, you may even be able to strike a deal with producers who can’t or don’t want to bring the produce back to their farms, he says. Also ask for or seek out “ugly” produce, which may not look as appealing as supermarket specimens, but are still delicious. “You don’t need the prettiest heirloom tomato to make tomato sauce,” Rogers says.
For those who have the time and desire, Rogers says that less-than-pristine produce can also be canned, preserved, and fermented—time-tested ways to extend the life of summer’s bounty.
When imagining how to repurpose scraps in the kitchen, think outside the oven and consider how food scraps can elevate a beverage. “You can make simple syrups, or if you like to make cocktails at home or tinctures, you can make shrubs or mocktails,” Rogers says.
For instance, instead of tossing out strawberry tops, Rogers uses them as a base for shrubs—sweet-tart, vinegar-based drinks that can be consumed on their own or mixed into cocktails or mocktails. He also recommends making limeade with beet and ginger peels, lime juice, and mint for a refreshing summer beverage. “[Drinks] can be a nice, creative way to use things,” he says.