Kitchener-Waterloo

How Guelph, Ont. experts turn fish poop, bugs and beer waste into gourmet food

What started as a crazy idea — to create a gourmet meal from waste — has become reality. For what's believed to be the first time in North America, you can sit in a restaurant and eat food made with ingredients from the waste of the beer that accompanies your meal.

‘The response has been excellent … People are very intrigued by it,’ restaurant president says

This trout sandwich is one of three dishes created by chefs of the Neighbourhood Group of Companies using so-called "circular ingredients" that close the waste-to-food-to-waste loop. (Submitted by Jaime Leger)

What started as a crazy idea — to create a gourmet meal from waste — has become reality. For what's believed to be the first time in North America, you can sit in a restaurant and eat food made with ingredients from the waste of the beer that accompanies your meal.

Chefs of the Neighbourhood Group of Companies have crafted three menus — sourdough crusted fish-and-chips, a trout sandwich, and gravalax trout on sourdough — using ingredients formerly treated as waste products.

Provision Coalition — a team of food and beverage sustainability experts — came up with the concept, a circular process that makes a loop of food-to-waste-to-food products.

"It all started with the idea of what if we could do something else with spent grain, and we were able to create seven collaborations and an entire meal out of it," president and CEO Cher Mereweather told CBC News.

"We wanted to form this movement or this call to action of 'what else can we do with byproducts? What else can we do by upcycling these nutrients,' by giving the nutrients that exist, another life if you will."

'It all started with the idea of 'what if we could do something else with spent grain,'" says Cher Mereweather, president and CEO of Provision Coalition. (Submitted by Jaime Leger)

The process starts with spent brewers' grain from Wellington Brewery in Guelph, Ont. These are taken to Oreka Solutions — an insect farm in Cambridge, Ont., where they're used to feed bugs. The bugs are then used to make fish feed. 

Izumi Aquaculture in Burlington, Ont., repurposes old gravel pits to become aquaculture facilities — fish farms — thus helping regenerate the natural environment and provide new locations to produce high-quality, local fish. They have started feeding their fish with Oreka's insect-based feed.

Izumi Aquaculture also uses fish poop, which is high in nutrients, to create a natural fertilizer for Smoyd Potato Farms in Wellington.

"So now we had fish, potatoes and beer. The meal was starting to come together," Mereweather explained.

"Back to Wellington … we had heard about a movement in the bakery industry to create bread from repurposed grains."

In comes Grain Revolution, an organic Guelph baker, and Escarpment Labs, a yeast lab. They began the process of working out how to create a sourdough from waste grain and yeast.

"So now we had bread, fish, potatoes and beer. It was time to bring in the chefs at the Neighbourhood Group, who crafted three menus from these circular ingredients," Mereweather said.

'Gross factor' acknowledged 

Mereweather admits that some people might be grossed out by the thought of food being prepared from waste.

"We actually acknowledge the gross factor. I know this sounds really gross but let us finish the story and you will see how it actually is really cool. We acknowledge the 'eww' factor right up front," Mereweather told CBC News.

"In fact, humans would never eat spent grain but it's how we use that byproduct to create new food ingredients that are not, in fact, waste. 

"We created a brand new food item out of a waste byproduct. So it's not actually that we're eating food waste but that we're regenerating and creating something totally new that is in fact ... delicious."

Seeing food differently

Court Desautels, president of Neighbourhood Group of Companies, said they now have a unique dish at three of their five restaurants.

"The response has been excellent. We've already had to place more orders for the fish and everything,' Desautels told CBC News.

"People are very intrigued by it. It's really just getting down and just reading the story and that's where it starts to resonate with people because they haven't seen something like this created before. I haven't."

Desautels said a huge philosophy in the restaurant group has been the study of waste, but he says because of this new initiative, they are now seeing food differently. 

"We're a certified B Corporation so that's been a big mandate of ours and this was just taking it to another whole new level," he said.

"Before we were only looking inside of our restaurant on how we can stop waste just going out the door but we never really considered all the different inputs that it takes to get things [into] our door. This is a whole new level that we hadn't really considered."

Court Desautels, president of Neighbourhood Group of Companies, says they now have a unique dish at three of their five restaurants. (Submitted by Court Desautels)

The big picture

This week Provision Coalition, with the support of three levels of Canadian government, is launching the circular food experience under the name Re(PURPOSE).

Given that North America is still producing more than 150 million tons of food waste per year, Mereweather said Re(PURPOSE) proves that it is possible to create food out of waste.

"The big picture here is that about 40 per cent of all food is wasted," Mereweather said 

"So this is about first bringing awareness to: 'How do we prevent food from being wasted in the first place?' and then really seeing food differently. When we have byproducts, peels or juice pulp or spent grain, that we ask ourselves the question, what else can we do? 

"These are still viable nutrients and we really start to think differently and see food differently. I think that's the call to action here. This is about saying that the end of the line on these nutrients is not necessarily the end of the line. What else can we create when we sit in that possibility of what if." 

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