Root-to-stalk cooking: How to host a trash dinner party

Towards zero waste: Make the most of your leftovers by cooking 'root-to-stalk'.
Towards zero waste: Make the most of your leftovers by cooking 'root-to-stalk'. Photo: Shuttershock

On a trip to Western Australia's Gascoyne region a couple of years ago, chef Melissa Palinkas had an aha moment.

"I saw with my own eyes just how much waste produce goes to landfill," she says. "I have always been conscious of using all my by-product, but actually seeing it had a profound effect and set me on a mission."

Asparagus stalks can have all kinds of uses.
Asparagus stalks can have all kinds of uses. Photo: Jennifer Soo

Alongside her aim to run a plastic-free kitchen at her Fremantle restaurant, Young George, Palinkas came up with a fresh initiative. "This month we are holding our first trash dinner," she says. "Every ingredient used at the dinner is scraps, leftovers, by-product catches, secondary produce and other bits and bobs that would normally be put in the bin on a day-to-day basis."

Palinkas says that one third of food produced globally is lost or wasted. "That's around 1.3 billion tonnes of food and a cost of $940 billion annually to the global economy, yet one in nine people are going hungry," she says. "According to Oz Harvest, if just one quarter of that wasted food could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people."

Much of that wasted food, she says, is vegetable scraps, that can be creatively utilised if the nose-to-tail ethos is applied. "I work root-to-stalk and have crazy experiments going on all over my kitchen," she says. "Nothing is spared, from citrus casings, spent lemon, asparagus trim and pea shells, to truffle scraps and yoghurt whey. They are all put to good use."

I work root-to-stalk and have crazy experiments going on all over my kitchen.

The "trash dinner" menus at Young George include a trash cocktail, canapes, entree, main with shared side dishes, and dessert. The menu is informed by whatever seasonal produce Palinkas has in her kitchen at the time.

"Right now we have a lot of pea shells, asparagus stalks and trim," she says. "That produce won't be available in summer so the menu will be different then. Obviously some things I can preserve from other seasons, which we can use anytime."

Her current menu is set to include a delicious duck neck sausage. "I am using the skin from the neck I have had stored up for sometime, and will be stuffing it with a Turkish-style sausage mix of duck and beef trim," she says.


"With it will be lots of delicious sides made from other waste. It means I have to be inventive which is lots of fun. Hopefully we can show our customers the importance of using up everything in your kitchen. It's good for the environment and satisfying to create something delicious and truly amazing!"

10 tips for hosting your own trash dinner party:

  • Look at the food waste you are about to bin and google what you can do with it.
  • Keep bones for creating stocks and sauces with real depth.
  • Preserve what you can by pickling or brining.
  • Freeze down your leftovers and repurpose later.
  • Buy broken prawn flesh and seconds vegetables.
  • Use rendered waygu fat when making pastry.
  • Use lemon and lime rind to pickle.
  • Candy leftover orange rinds.
  • Use chicken wing tips when preparing roast chicken gravy.
  • Meat trim and scraps can be stuffed in a sausage or encased in pastry.

Trash lime pickle recipe

This is a great accompaniment with chicken or fish. If you want a hot and spicy pickle, add a tablespoon of flaked chilli into your simmer.


1kg diced spent lime husks, plus the pulp from juicing them

150ml lime juice

500g, diced onion

125g salt

250g caster sugar

20 cloves of garlic - smashed

150ml canola oil

4 tbsp cumin seeds

3 tbsp black mustard seeds

1 tbsp cardamom pods


1. Put a pot of water on the stove and boil the lime skins for 30 minutes until really tender.

2. In another pot add 150 mls of oil and fry off the spices. Add onions and smashed garlic and sweat with the spices. Add the cooked husks, lime juice, pulp salt and sugar. Simmer for 30-40 minutes.

3. Place in a preserver jar and store for 4 weeks before using.


Kale ribs with iceberg salad, ponzu dipping sauce and kewpie recipe

Serve kale ribs (aka stalks) on a plate with ponzu dipping sauce, some Kewpie mayonnaise, fresh iceberg lettuce, julienned carrot and shelled edamame.

Kale ribs

Bunch of kale stalks (from kale you used in another dish)

2 litres water

1 tbsp salt


1. Boil water and blanch kale stalks until tender. Refresh in ice water to stop the cooking process and preventing stalks from going dark brown. Drain and set aside.


Leftover breadcrumb mix

2 eggs

1 cup plain flour

Sea salt


1. Place leftover stale bread in a food processor and blitz to a crumb.

2. Evenly spread the crumbs on a flat tray and dry in the oven on a low temperature until dry. This usually takes about 2 hours. Keep turning the crumbs over once dry on top.

3. Dredge kale stalks through flour, egg, and then the breadcrumbs. Repeat until all the kale stalks are crumbed.

4. Deep fry until golden and crispy, drain on some paper towel and season with sea salt.

Lemon ponzu sauce

30ml rice vinegar

120ml mirin

30g kombu (seaweed)

15g bonito flakes

120ml lemon pulp (strained)

120ml light soy sauce


1. Combine vinegar, mirin, and kombu in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer.

2. Remove from heat and stir in bonito flakes. Cover and let steep for 10 minutes.

3. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer and discard solids. Or alternatively reserve to make a second batch, using some additional bonito in the second batch. Let cool completely.

4. Combine steeped mirin, citrus juice, and soy sauce. The ponzu will keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

More recipes to make the most of leftovers