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Sustainability in the Kitchen: An Interview with the Skin Chef

Sustainability in the Kitchen: An Interview with the Skin Chef

Graydon Skincare has always made sustainability an important part of our brand. As a member of this team, it makes me proud to be part of a company that cares about making a positive impact on the planet! Our products use upcycled ingredients, our packaging is recyclable, and all of our products are The Good Face certified, meaning they comply with global regulatory and sustainability standards.

The desire for sustainability is an integral part of Graydon Skincare, and it stems from the values our founder, Graydon Moffat, has carried with her in her personal life and as a businesswoman. Combine that with her experience as a vegan chef, and Graydon has a lot of exciting ideas about how to cook and eat sustainably.

Earlier this year, Graydon and I had a chance to have an incredibly thought-provoking conversation about how she navigates sustainability in her kitchen, from handling trips to the grocery store, to getting creative with ingredients and flavours, all the way to making the most out of her leftovers.

I left our conversation inspired to explore my own fridge and pantry to see what delicious, healthy meal I could create! Hopefully, by the end of this article, you’ll be dreaming up your next recipe, too.

An Interview with the Skin Chef

What inspires you in the kitchen?

I’ve always been someone who loves to experiment and try new flavours in the kitchen. I’ve found that you don’t need to pick out adventurous, pricy ingredients at the grocery store to get creative in the kitchen. If anything, finding new, exciting ways to eat fridge and pantry staples inspires me! I also love to create meals that are filled with vitamins, fiber, and healthy fats.

As someone interested in sustainability, how does that show up in your cooking?

I was raised by a thrifty grandmother who could make an incredible meal out of anything,so using what I already have has become a hallmark of how I cook.

To me, the idea of using what you have actually involves a couple of different things. The first is understanding how to use ingredients that aren’t perfectly fresh. I’m talking about the mushy tomato you forgot about or the bread that's gone stale. Instead of just tossing ‘bad’ food, I think it’s important to understand how we can still use ingredients that are less than perfect.

Another thing I do is I lean on my staple ingredients. When you are cooking, there are so many fantastic ways to cook even the simplest ingredients. You can use the same few things in a million different ways, so even if you’re cooking the same ingredients over and over, they can taste unique and delicious every time.

What advice do you have for someone interested in sustainable cooking?

Use everything! All those little bits that end up in the compost can still be used. Carrot tops, squash skins, the leaves of your celery, the peelings from your potatos… all of it can be used in new meals. Toss all your veg into a pot and make broth, zest the lemon you just squeezed, pickle the red onion in your pantry that’s about to go bad. I also think it’s important to be flexible while cooking. If you don’t have a particular ingredient, don’t run over to the grocery store. There’s probably a great substitution somewhere in your kitchen. 

"It’s important to be flexible while cooking. If you don’t have a particular ingredient, don’t run over to the grocery store. There’s probably a great substitution somewhere in your kitchen."

What does a trip to the grocery store look like for you?

How I shopped at the grocery store was something that became really pertinent to me, actually, when my financial situation changed. When my marriage dissolved and I had to be more concerned about money, I moved to an area that was close to Little India, Greektown and Chinatown East. Financially, I learned to live very carefully and be very mindful at the grocery store.

However, these encouraged me to shop in new places, where I discovered how to make healthy meals cheaply. I’ve found that small ethnic grocery stores in my neighbourhood have an excellent selection of well priced pulses and spices plus exotic fruits and vegetables.

I also try to be a conscious consumer when I’m at the grocery store. Whenever I can, I like to choose items that are fair trade and ethically sourced.

Do you have a certain method or game plan when it comes to cooking meals?

I love to meal prep, but when people think of meal prepping, they think of making a complete meal and putting it in tupperware for later. For me, meal prepping looks more like cooking large batches of one or two things so there is always a supply in the fridge.

For example, I’ll make a big batch of quinoa, and then over the next few days I will throw in a different combination of fresh veggies, leafy greens, and spices/sauces each day–so I still get to eat something new every day!

Or, I’ll toss what I have on hand into a slow cooker, add in the seasoning, and let it do its work while I go about my day.

You usually end up with a big portion of something tasty, no matter what combination of items you put in. Having lots of crisp, green ingredients on hand to toss onto a meal also adds a little health and freshness onto what you were already planning to eat.

"My method is: make it easy for yourself!"

I guess you could say my method is: make it easy for yourself! While there are plenty of amazing meals that take hours of hard work to make and tons of expensive ingredients, there are also plenty of delicious, healthy, and cheap meals you can throw together quickly. And, if you can, always keep a supply of one-ingredient leftovers in your fridge!

You’ve talked a bit about fridge and pantry staples. What are yours?

There are a couple of ingredients I always keep on hand because I use them so often in my cooking. 

My staples are:

  • Salt
  • Good quality olive oil (it’s worth investing in!)
  • Balsamic 
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Chili peppers
  • Cabbage
  • Bones* 
  • Chickpeas

You might have noticed that a lot of these are spices, or the type of ingredient you wouldn’t eat completely on its own–they’re more about providing flavour to other ingredients. (Unless you’re adventurous and would take a bite out of an onion like it was an apple!) But I believe these are the building blocks to turn anything else you have in your kitchen into a delicious dish.

"Spices are the building blocks of a delicious dish."

Another reason I consider these my staples is because they leave space for you to eat seasonally. In Toronto, I’m pretty lucky that I can get almost any ingredient I want at my grocery store. While they might not be as juicy, we can still get strawberries in the dead of winter and squash in spring. However, making a conscious effort to try and choose in-season ingredients when at the grocery store is a sustainable choice, because you’re getting ingredients that don’t have to be driven here from thousands of kilometers away, on a truck using liters and liters of gas. Plus, ingredients that are in-season tend to be fresher and taste better anyways.

*As for bones, even though I am primarily plant-based, I believe that honouring all parts of the animal is the most thoughtful thing to do. If a family member has purchased high quality organic from a store who sells ethically sourced meat, I will make a broth from any leftover bones because the broth is good for my osteopenia.

Leftovers aren’t just for reheating and eating. What’s the most creative thing you do with your leftovers?

I actually have three little hacks I use often when it comes to leftovers.

The first is to turn leftovers into dog food! I like to give my dog veg, meat, and even some grains when I can. If I have leftovers that haven’t been covered in spices and are safe and healthy for my dog to eat, it ends up being a way more nutritious meal for him than kibble. Some of his favourites are cooked sweet potato and ground chicken. However, make sure you’re doing your research and making sure your leftovers are pet friendly.

My second goal is a way of giving life to bread that has gone stale. If you’ve got stale bread, just drizzle in olive oil, add some salt, and bake it in the oven. Voila! You have a delicious crostini. And if you crumble or cut up the bread, you’ve got croutons.

Another thing I do is if I only have a little left of a bunch of different leftovers. For example, a bit of leftover sauteed cabbage, some seasoned rice, and a roasted veg medley can make a delicious soup when you add a broth into the mix.

This is my solution if I have a bunch of mix and match leftovers that aren’t enough to be their own meal–turn it into soup!

What are your go-to meals?

In general, I love one-pot meals and anything you can serve family style. Some days, my slow cooker is my best friend! I also love making bone broth–it's great for my osteoporosis and I find it rewarding to source bones from butchers who would otherwise throw them away.

More specifically, I’ve shared tons of recipes I’ve loved over the years online. Here are some of my faves:

Meals

Deserts

Snacks, Drinks + Extras

What are some unique ingredients or flavours you love, and how can others incorporate them into their meals?

My go-to ingredients that aren’t necessarily unique but perhaps not as common in North America would be ume paste and za’atar. 

Ume paste is a Japanese ingredient made of pickled plums. Because it’s a pickled fruit, the flavour is quite unique. There's the saltiness from the pickling and sweetness from the fruit. Overall, it’s a tangy, concentrated flavour that works amazingly when added to a sauce, dressing, or marinade.

Za’atar is another favourite of mine. It’s a middle eastern spice blend that tastes amazing on so many different things. Most za’atar is made up of toasted sesame seeds, sumac, chili flakes, and salt.

There are different versions, some of which contain thyme, coriander, oregano, marjoram, or cumin. But all include sumac as the superstar ingredient. In my opinion, za’atar tastes amazing sprinkled over almost any savory meal.

"You don’t need much to make a meal special."

I also think swiss chard is an underrated leafy green. It’s definitely not the first leafy green you think of. Lettuce, spinach, kale, even arugula often come first. But it’s a green full of flavonoid antioxidants, iron, calcium, and vitamins–and usually isn’t as pricy as other popular, nutrient-dense alternatives.

Now that we’ve talked about leftovers and fun flavours, let's get down to the basics. What’s the bare minimum you’d need to make a meal you’d love?

I don’t think I need much to make a meal I’d be happy to eat. Give me a bit of cabbage, a handful of chickpeas, an onion, a bone, and a pinch of salt, and I’ll cook you up an amazing cabbage soup.

You don’t need much to make a meal special.

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Questions this article answers: Sustainability in the Kitchen Sustainable Cooking Skin Chef Smart Grocery Shopping Leftover Recipes Sustainable Kitchen Tips Eco-Friendly Cooking Reduce Food Waste Green Kitchen Practices Environmentally Conscious Cooking Sustainable Food Choices Cooking with Leftovers Tips for Sustainable Eating Eco-Friendly Kitchen Ideas Sustainable Meal Planning

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