For most cooks, certain leftover ingredients go straight into the trashcan: citrus peels, strawberry stems, bruised basil leaves. But for Nathaniel Cayer-Myette, executive chef at the Godfrey's rooftop bar, IO, those bits of food waste are key components of a cocktail menu.
“It’s just kind of my upbringing,” says the Montreal-born chef. “I grew up in a very hippie household, and we were always taught to minimize waste and control our carbon footprint. We tried to reuse everything.”
When Cayer-Myette took the top job at the Godfrey in 2014, he aimed to bring that mentality to the bar. He's since assembled a menu of cocktails from all sorts of unlikely food waste, from habanero scraps to bruised mint. This Wednesday, in honor of Earth Month, he'll lead a class at the bar on mixing beverages from discarded ingredients.
“Places like the Aviary and Violet Hour that do these ‘chef-driven cocktails,' they do them for like forty people," he says. "We do them for 800, and I wanted to show people that you can do it on a macro level. It just takes time.”
Cayer-Myette’s Earth-mindedness also provide a financial boon to IO. By cooking with the bar's waste items, the Godfrey guarantees a maximum bang for the kitchen’s buck. “It’s great to do our part in trying not to waste as much as possible, but it’s also just dollars and cents. You’re getting as much out of your product as possible. 100 percent yield.”
A self-described “chef before anything else,” Cayer-Myette approaches his cocktails like he would a dish. While working on a drink, he says, “I try to hit as many of the five flavors as I can." As he continues to tinker with the formulas for his leftover-inspired libations, there's one item that’s topped his list of unusual waste ingredients: “When you’re juicing pineapples, you get this crazy layer of foam at the top of the liquid, from the juice being separated out of the pulp and the flesh. We use that foam for our granita.”
At the class on Wednesday, Cayer-Myette will teach participants to make his signature spicy strawberry cocktail (see above). The operative ingredients include leftover strawberry stems, habanero scraps, and bruised or leftover basil, cilantro, and mint.
For cocktail enthusiasts who can’t make it to the class, Cayer-Myette has one piece of advice: "Practice—just try," he says. "If you fail, who cares? You were going to throw it out anyway."