Tag Archives: Ahmad’s Persian Cuisine

Reducing Food Waste

October 4, 2016 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

The night of the Jimmy Buffett concert could not have been more perfect, weather-wise: a calm, near-cloudless 70-degree evening. Packs of Hawaiian-shirted Parrotheads meandered the Old Market’s cobblestone streets in search of 5-o’clock somewhere, food, and drink.

Major shows at CenturyLink are routine for downtown Omaha, but for the city’s restaurants, event schedules are just part of the unscientific guessing game to determine how much food to prepare for the nightly dinner rush.

Sometimes the indicators to make more food—a concert, a beautiful night outside, and an upcoming holiday—are the same indicators for restaurateurs to make less. Restaurants deal with this guessing game all the time. Wasted food impacts their bottom line. Any unused food usually means lost revenue. Environmentally, repercussions stretch across the entire cycle of food production.

Three restaurant owners gave their estimates on what they threw out each night: Ahmad Nazar, owner of Ahmad’s Persian Cuisine, estimates his restaurant fills a 45-gallon garbage can for a standard dinner service. Clayton Chapman, chef and owner at The Grey Plume, says his restaurant fills an 18-gallon garbage can per night. David Mainelli, co-owner of Julio’s, says his restaurant fills an entire dumpster in a week.

The United States Department of Agriculture estimated that 133 billion pounds of food went to waste in 2010. “The statistics are 40 percent of food that’s produced ends up in the landfill,” says Beth Ostdiek Smith, president and founder of Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue.

Since its founding in 2013, Saving Grace has delivered more than one million pounds of food to local non-profits. The majority of the food comes from grocery stores, caterers, and convenience stores.

“When I started this, I thought that (restaurants) would be our top food donor. That’s not the case,” Smith says. “Our restaurants have learned to manage their food, and it’s more made to order, so there’s not as much waste from restaurants as maybe there once was.”

Different restaurants around town tackle the food waste problem with different strategies. At Ahmad’s, Nazar says his 26-plus years of experience have taught him about portion control. “I’ve learned how people want it, especially business people who travel. They don’t want too much food. It’s hard to judge, so I have a portion ready for everyone,” Nazar says.

The United States Department of Agriculture estimated that 133 billion pounds of food went to waste in 2010.

Mainelli says Julio’s kitchen staff tries to minimize waste by boiling the parts of the chicken that do not reach a customer’s plate and making it into a stock. Onion skins are used for barbecue sauces. Still, Mainelli believes his restaurant could do better in managing food waste. For example, cooked rice IS an item that has a short lifespan, as it cannot be reheated for a restaurant-quality dish. “Sometimes, we’ll throw out an entire batch that could serve 50 people,” he says.

The Grey Plume is renowned for being one of the most environmentally friendly restaurants in the nation. In addition to using recycled materials for their drywall and steel framing, Clayton Chapman says the restaurant uses a three-step process to reduce food waste. The first step involves using as much of the ingredient as possible (when carrots get cut up, the remaining carrot pieces get pureed into a base).

“Not everything has a second life, but most things do,” Chapman says. The second step includes composting any leftover and eligible ingredients. The final step is to prepare everything to order so that reheating isn’t necessary.

Along with internal quality control, Ahmad’s, Julio’s, and The Grey Plume have donated food and resources to charitable organizations like Siena/Francis Homeless Shelter and Youth
Emergency Services.

In 2012, after recovering from an undiagnosed lymphatic illness that left him bedridden, Mainelli was inspired to start Feedback Omaha, an organization that works with local restaurants and nonprofits to feed those in need. In addition to donating food to the needy, Feedback Omaha organizers also perform a standard restaurant-style dinner service.

In July, the organization provided its first service for YES, which featured a taco bar for about 100 kids. In October, Feedback Omaha served about 250 people at the Lydia House with Mama’s Pizza and All Inclusive Catering providing food for the event.

The standard for what can be donated is a simple (but inflexible) rule: whatever is cooked, but does not go out to a customer, can be donated. For example, a cooked pizza in a restaurant kitchen is ripe for donating. However, if it goes out into the restaurant dining area, it’s no longer a candidate for donation.

“If it’s in the buffet, it cannot be rescued. If it’s in the back, we can still rescue it,” Smith says.

Visit savinggracefoodrescue.org or facebook.com/feedbackomaha for more information.

Encounter

food-waste-illustration-copy

Persian Diversion

November 18, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If your dining experience at Ahmad’s Persian Cuisine feels less than formal, know that vibe is exactly what Ahmad Nazar intended when opening his Old Market restaurant 24 years ago.

Nazar came to the United States from his native Iran to study business with plans of returning to his homeland after graduating. However, while he was in Omaha attending Creighton University, the Iranian Revolution transformed his country. Though he still goes back to Iran every five or six years, he said it is not the Iran he grew up in.

At 2 p.m. on a recent Friday afternoon, Ahmad’s should be closing its doors. Lunchtime is supposed to be over. Yet people still file in to sit in the quaint restaurant at 10th and Howard Streets.  Nazar greets everyone with a smile and comes out to speak with each of his diners. Some are return customers who he knows by name.

An Indian couple asks Nazar to explain some of the dishes on his lunch menu, which he is glad to do. Seated near the counter are two young women and a little girl. One of the women is heavily inked and, upon receiving her lunch, yells back into the kitchen, “I love you guys!” Later, after the three have finished their lunch and ordered Turkish coffee, the woman implores the little girl to give Nazar a hug, which after some more prodding, she does.

 

When asked if it is common for guests to keep filing in even though he’s supposed to be closing to get ready for his dinner crowd, Nazar said he wouldn’t think of turning anyone away. He has customers that come in from all over the metro area and beyond.

“It’s not my place to turn anyone away, it gives me great pleasure sharing my food with others,” he says.

Sharing his dishes with friends—that’s how Nazar started cooking. When he was a student, friends would come and he got in the habit of cooking for them. He says it was too expensive to go out to eat. Pretty soon he had friends coming over to his little apartment requesting certain meals.

“You should be a chef, have your own restaurant,” he says he was told often in those days. He learned to cook under his mother’s watchful eye when he was 14. His first dish was khoresht gheymeh, a beef dish in a sauce with cinnamon, potatoes, and onions.

“It wasn’t very good and they let me know,” Nazar says of that first kitchen foray. His family was honest with him and he learned the value of tasting your dish as you prepare it, learning to add spices and seasonings as needed. He kept at it and his meals improved. A recent sampling of the dish is testament to how well Nazar absorbed those early lessons and then built upon them.

In college he was working at different restaurants in Omaha such as V. Mertz and the French Café. He says he loves and respects all cuisines, but when it came to opening a restaurant he knew to stick to his roots.

He had been eyeing the location of his restaurant for a few years. Before it was Ahmad’s, the building was occupied by Taste of Chicago. He always thought it was a great spot for a restaurant.  One night he asked the owner to let him know if he ever planned to sell the place. The owner did, in fact, plan to sell, but he already had a buyer. When that deal fell through, Nazar jumped at the chance. Interestingly enough, the restaurant opened at the time of the first Gulf War.

“My wife thought I was crazy and that people would avoid us because of the war,” Nazar says.

But that wasn’t the case. In fact, Nazar says, his restaurant has always hosted a lot of military people. Many are his most faithful customers. He said he’ll often get calls from Offutt Air Force Base higher-ups to reserve tables for groups of officers traveling to the Middle East so they can experience the region’s cuisine before traveling there.

Nazar takes as much pride in the look of the restaurant as he does in the dishes. The paintings depict Persian scenes and he has about 35 pieces he rotates throughout the year whenever he wants to change up the mood. Understandably, he also pays close attention to the food. He said he doesn’t use unhealthy oils and buys the freshest ingredients. He even advises diners how they should enjoy the food.

“Most of our meats do not need knives,” he says. Tender and flavorful, he says. That’s the goal.”

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