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At the Chef’s Table: One man’s trash, a chef’s treasure

BrandBaltzley uses vegetable scraps greens thmost us would throw away. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Brandon Baltzley uses vegetable scraps and greens that most of us would throw away. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Pop-up dinner

Brandon Baltzley’s CRUX collective will hold a 14-course pop-up dinner with chef Iliana Regan of One Sister Inc. at 7 p.m. Dec. 12 at Bonsoiree, 2728 W. Armitage. The cost is $125, and it’s BYOB. Proceeds benefit Inspiration Corporation.

You can’t just pop in, though. E-mail your party size and phone number to

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Updated: January 1, 2012 8:01AM

Autumn has always been the time of year when I enjoy cooking the most.

There’s something about the brisk air and crunch of foliage underneath my chef clogs, coupled with the occasional smell of burning oak, pine and fir, that sparks a will and want to create. Whether in the city or the country, I believe fall has an impact on everyone.

Speaking of nature’s beauty, a growing trend among the culinary elite, stretching from Renee Redzepi in Copenhagen, Denmark, to John Shields in Chilhowie, Va., is the use of foliage. One could argue that Grant Achatz was at the forefront of this movement with his burning oak and pheasant dish, but chefs today are trying to bring it to another level — turning what most throw in the bin into flavorful accompaniments like pestos and vinaigrettes or awe-inspiring garnishes for visually stunning plates. One man’s trash, I suppose . . .

I believe it all comes down to a philosophy that has been lost in modern fine-dining. Waste has become accepted as the byproduct of modernist cuisine. I — and those I work closest with — am dedicated to changing this by exhibiting ways to use the whole beast, and I’m not talking about animals.

The nose-to-tail mentality is rarely applied to fruits and vegetables. But why not? I resolve that a carrot should be looked at in the same way a pig is.

What’s wrong with using the carrot greens? They are edible, and while related to other poisonous plants, they are not toxic. Not only do they have great nutritional value, they have medicinal qualities as well.

Turnip leaves, when dehydrated, present themselves as stunning tuiles. Beet skins can be ground into a powder that can be used as a type of charcoal-like paint, similar to Cray-Pas, when you add a drop of oil. Chard stems can be pickled, roots can be juiced, shells can be smoked, bitter rinds can be boiled into marmalade and corn silks can be fried.

With not much of the season left, I suggest taking advantage of autumn’s bounty. Start by preparing foods that can be frozen, dried, pickled, cured, and canned. If all else fails, you always can survive off your holiday leftovers.

Brandon Baltzley is the chef and founder of CRUX culinary collective.

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