Oakland, Calif. • You've heard of turning water into wine. But what can you turn wine into once the bottle is past its prime?
Plenty say a trio of thrifty chefs who've been turning dregs into delicious vinegars, marinades, even sorbets.
"Any good kitchen waste not, want not," points out Clark Frasier, co-founder of Arrows Restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine.
Restaurants end up with wine leftovers for a number of reasons, particularly if they sell a lot of it by the glass, something that's become more popular as consumers have become more cautious about spending. But that trend can leave restaurants with plenty of wine at the bottom of the bottle.
At the Camino restaurant in Oakland, chef/owner Russell Moore uses leftover wine to make his own red wine vinegar and recently started making a white wine vinegar, as well. He hasn't bought a bottle of vinegar since Camino opened three years ago, though demand has become so high he's planning on starting up a third barrel so he can age the vinegar longer.
Moore, who worked for 20 years for Alice Water's famous Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, has been making his own vinegar for years. The process is fairly simple, he says, though it does require some supervision.
To start, you need "live" vinegar, the clear, plastic-looking stuff that can form at the bottom of a bottle which actually is the "good" bacteria that turn alcohol into vinegar and is known as a "mother." This can be purchased; Moore got his when he looked at a bottle of vinegar on his counter one day and realized it had produced a mother.
He makes his vinegar in small oak barrels stashed on a shelf in the Camino kitchen. Holes bored in the barrels allow air to pass over the vinegar's surface. He feeds it the leftover wine and a little water if necessary. And that's it.
The result is better than most of the commercially available vinegars out there, he says and way less expensive, something that fits well into the aesthetics of Camino's no-waste policy.
At Salumeria Rossi in New York City, the rule is simple, says chef Cesare Casella. If there are two glasses left in a bottle of wine, it gets preserved and kept for the next day. "If we have one glass left, they're going to give it to the kitchen."
Casella uses the leftover wine to make marinades for dishes like pork loin or lamb shanks.
For Frasier, wine recycling takes an entirely different turn. He uses leftover Champagne, riesling and sweet wines to create granitas and sorbets.
Arrows, which Frasier runs with co-owner and chef Mark Gaier, has had a by-the-glass wine program since it opened more than 20 years ago, so they're used to dealing with leftovers.
Fortified wines are especially good for sorbets, though the trick is having enough on hand. That's when you get creative. If Frasier has a little of three different but complementary wines available he might make a trio of sorbets that show off each grape. "It's an elegant thing to do and it makes it fun and interesting," he says. "And it's a great way not to be wasting something that's very expensive."
A side-effect of repurposing pinot and other wine leftovers is you find yourself cooking with a storied vintage that normally would never go near a spoon, like a high-end Champagne or Chateau d'Yquem, the famous French dessert wine that can command hundreds a bottle.
"Sometimes it just happens," says Frasier.
The point is, "nothing should be wasted in a good kitchen" he says, "and this is just an extension of that."