Tag Archives: Clayton Chapman

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

Reinventing the Classic

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Time travel back to childhood. Sink your teeth into two slices of white bread slathered with creamy peanut butter and purplish jam, the sandwich staple of sack lunches and after-school snacks.

Can you taste the love? Hungry for more? Many Omaha locals drive over to the Old Market Farmers Market on a Saturday morning for their fix. There’s often a line stretching around the black truck with an orange logo, where customers eagerly await gourmet twists on standard PB&J.

PBJ3PBJ—Peanut Butter Johnny’s—is the dream and brainchild of John Jelinek. You won’t find Skippy and processed strawberry jam here. Jelinek’s food truck rolls through town selling sandwiches made from many different types of bread, a variety of nut butters, and artisanal jams ranging from spicy jalapeño to exotic fig. He even puts bacon on his sandwiches.

Jelinek isn’t a chef or a well-known restauranteur in town. In fact, Peanut Butter Johnny’s is his first business. Jelinek previously worked as director of sales vendors for Time Warner. He dreamed of owning his own business, and he initially thought about opening a clothing store.

Then he considered opening a food truck, but he wasn’t sure if it would work for him; “There’s already a lot of pizza trucks and that sort of thing, and frankly, they do it better than I can,” Jelinek says.

Jelinek finally settled upon the idea of serving grown-up versions of childhood comfort food. He took the concept and (literally) rolled with it. Not being a chef, he wanted a professional to make sure his vision was as delicious as he imagined.

He contacted Beth Augustyn in the culinary arts department of Metropolitan Community College. Augustyn made a connection with graduate Jarrod Lane, a sous chef at Marks Bistro. The business owner and chef stuck together like…

Jelinek didn’t just connect with Lane. He also connected with chef Clayton Chapman of the Grey Plume, Patricia Barron of Big Mama’s, and chef Paul Kulik of Le Bouillon. Jelinek asked for help from these local culinary giants, and each helped create the specialty sandwiches on his menu.

“What’s great about John is he has a vision but he allows us to create,” says Chapman. “We went to a few tasting sessions to get that to where he wanted it. He’s incredibly creative and able to see something in its finished place much before it’s started.”

PBJ2

Peanut Butter Johnny’s opened for business on the evening of Dec. 5, 2015, at a fundraiser for the Nebraska AIDS Project. Over the summer, the truck attended the free Memorial Park concert and fireworks, and the Fourth of July Parade in Ralston. Anywhere the people go, they go.

PBJ serves sandwiches upon sandwiches. And customers can’t get enough. At ConAgra in early July, Jelinek, Lane, and two other employees served 40 orders in little under 30 minutes. “People were telling us they’ve waited over an hour for other food trucks,” Lane says.

Jelinek’s multi-ingredient sandwiches require time and love. Aside from bacon, other dishes feature chicken, and many sandwiches come grilled.

“You can’t go wrong with PB&J,” claims customer Justin Swanson. “I want to support local business owners, plus this is way better than I can make.”

On a sweltering summer day, Swanson saw the truck parked near 90th and Dodge streets. He swung by to support the business (and his bar friend). Swanson is a bartender at The House of Loom, where Jelinek often chooses to spend his free time.

It’s these type of friendships that keep customers coming to PBJ. Chapman says Jelinek’s personality also draws return customers.

“It’s his enthusiasm, it’s his drive, it’s his passion for what he’s doing,” Chapman says. “You’re just naturally drawn to it.”

“So much of business is relationships,” Jelinek says. “So much of repeat business is relationships. Serving them good food and being nice to them so they say, ‘You know, let’s go back.’”

He wants the food truck community to keep making relationships, too, especially in the wake of new regulations.

“It’s important that we have rules that everyone can live by,” Jelinek says. “Food trucks want to find a way to get along well and be something unique.” 

Visit pbjohnnys.com for more information. Encounter

PBJ1

The Grey Plume

September 25, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A few years ago it would be hard to believe that Omaha would be home to one of the top three greenest restaurants in America, let alone a James Beard Foundation award semi finalist. In the past you would have to visit cities like New York, Chicago, or San Francisco to find restaurants and chefs with accolades such as these, but The Grey Plume has been in the national spotlight since the day they opened in 2010.

GreyPlume2

Chef/Owner Clayton Chapman has racked up more James Beard nominations than any Omaha chef in history. “Farm to Table” and “Eco-Friendly” restaurants are quite common in many large American cities, but in Omaha it’s still a relatively new phenomenon. The Grey Plume takes all of this to a new level with the close collaboration Chapman has with his growers and ranchers.

The restaurant is quite handsomely designed with a formal but still comfortable feel. White tablecloths and velvet-covered bench seats give the restaurant a plush, luxurious look.

Great care was taken in the design to use reclaimed and recycled materials as well as special low-energy kitchen equipment with a small carbon footprint. The artwork featured around the restaurant comes from local artists, as does some of the plateware made from recycled wine bottles.

Chef de Cuisine John Engler’s menu is constantly changing, but on a recent visit I saw several dishes that fondly recalled previous visits. My dining partner and I started off with one of my favorites, the Duck Fat Fries ($9). As the name implies, these crispy hand-cut fries are fried in duck fat and served over aioli with a farm-fresh egg on top. The combination is incredible. We also tried the Smoked Housemade Ricotta Gnocchi ($12). This beautifully presented appetizer features pumpernickel bread crumbs which provide flavor as well as texture. It also has a cherry purée and fresh leeks. I am certain I will be ordering this one again. Next we tried the Cold Potato Soup ($9). This concoction had a velvety cream texture and was garnished with truffle powder that gave it a great umami boost. We also had the Heartland Organics’ Spring Greens Salad ($8), a nice light salad featuring local mixed greens, feta cheese, radish, and lavash with an olive oil dressing. For entrees I had the Morgan Ranch Wagyu Beef ($36). It featured perfectly cooked “petite filet” or teres major cut. The dish also had some oxtail, tongue, and an amazing sausage, all from Morgan Ranch in Burwell, Nebraska. A light demi glace sauce, shaved asparagus, shiitake mushroom, and Yukon gold potatoes made this dish a delicious combination. My dining partner tried Plum Creek Farm’s Chicken Roulade ($27). This moist chicken was served with baby bok choy, snap peas, farro, and a savory strawberry puree—another stellar entree. For dessert we had TGP Hand Crafted Chocolates ($13.50) and the Ice Cream Trio ($8.50). The ice cream dish consisted of a trio of scoops: salted caramel, orange chamomile, and sorrel. The sorrel, at first, seemed an odd flavor for ice cream, but I was instantly hooked.

 

GreyPlume4

 

At times in the past I felt that the service at The Grey Plume was perhaps a bit stuffy and overly formal. Servers sometimes make your head spin with their immense knowledge of food and wine while using French words and terms that most diners have never even heard of. But this was not the case on this particular evening. Our server was friendly, humorous, and casual, but provided excellent service. He went out of his way to explain the dishes to my dining partner using layman’s terms. He also earned extra points on his wine recommendation of an exquisite French bordeaux that went perfectly with my Wagyu beef.

GreyPlume3

There is no doubt in my mind that The Grey Plume is one the best restaurants in Omaha. Unfortunately my income bracket does not allow me to frequent places in this price range often enough. But don’t relegate this special place to birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions. You owe it to yourself to experience The Grey Plume, the hot spot that has so deservedly received so much critical acclaim all across America.

Cheers!

The Grey Plume, 220 S. 31st Ave.

402-763-4447 or thegreyplume.com

Food=4/5 Stars

Service=3 1/2 /5 Stars

Ambiance=4/5 Stars

Price $$$$

Overall=4/5 Stars

GreyPlume1

Brave New Prairie

May 1, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article originally appeared in Omaha Magazine’s May/June 2015 issue.

A small sign in Summer Miller’s kitchen speaks volumes about her mission: “Love people. Cook them tasty food.”

Seated in the cozy kitchen of her charming Elkhorn-area country home (formerly a one-room schoolhouse), the love is on full display as Miller flits throughout the room, doing a dance many home cooks and parents know well. She canters left, stirring a pot of homemade soup, then right, fetching milk for her daughter, Juniper. After pausing for a hug with her little “Junebug,” coffee is poured for the adults; its aroma mingling with the lingering scent of fresh-baked bread.

Tasty food is also achieved as Miller, a local journalist, author, and foodie, serves up a preview of the edible delights featured in New Prairie Kitchen, her seasonally driven cookbook that connects home chefs to the local food movement by weaving together the recipes and stories of 25 chefs, farmers, and artisans from Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota. In the book, nationally recognized restaurants and Beard-nominated chefs sit at the same proverbial dinner table alongside humble farmers, bakers, and artisans, all united in a passion for local food done right.

“The book celebrates our regional food community through stories, photography, and recipes,” says Miller. “I started [it] at a time in my life when I needed inspiration. From that perspective, I personally needed to find these people and places. Once I did, I was so moved by the experiences I had—the stories the farmers, chefs, and artisans shared, and the beauty of the food—that I wanted to share it with as many people as possible.”

The beauty Miller found over four years traveling and collecting stories is palpable in her preparation of Dante Ristorante Pizzeria chef Nick Strawhecker’s strawberry jam and The Grey Plume chef Clayton Chapman’s ricotta, which team up atop a honey-oat bread recipe from Hastings’ Back Alley Bakery. An earthy, savory braised chicken soup follows. It’s a seasonally adjusted version of a Strawhecker dish from the book, featuring carrots from Rhizosphere Farm (located in the Loess Hills of Iowa just south of Missouri Valley) and chicken from Plum Creek Farms (Burchard, Neb.), and it’s a bowl-tipper to be sure.

George P. Johnson, owner of George Paul Vinegar, says New Prairie Kitchen offers readers “treasured recipes to hand down through generations.”

The recipes and producers here are indeed treasures, and the book is the treasure map.

“I love being around creative, innovative people because they infuse everything and everyone around them with a sense of possibility,” says Miller. “When those personalities exist in the food world we benefit as home cooks and shoppers. Rather than eating food only for sustenance, we get to eat food that nourishes us, yes, but also teaches us about a certain corner of the world. The act of preparing, sharing, and eating food becomes a cultural and emotive experience. When we connect to places, and, more importantly, the people of those places, whether that place is our dinner table, the farmers market, or a restaurant, and the people, family or new friends, we build our community, making it a more enjoyable place to live. Our experiences become more profound.”

The vibrant pages of New Prairie Kitchen, which is set for release later this month, are illuminated with stunning images from the talented photographer Dana Damewood. Wide landscape shots, close-ups of chickens, vegetables, smiling chefs, a red tractor, a handful of grain, exquisitely plated meals, an old Dodge Ram van with the license plate reading “GARLIC” — all a familiar yet striking array of Midwestern artifacts representing a contemporary take on classic Americana. The book manages to simultaneously represent old and new, sophisticated and simple.

“It’s difficult sometimes to get a good sense of the local food movement and what it truly looks like,” says Terra Hall of Rhizosphere Farm, “particularly the connections that make such a strong community. Telling food stories from a particular region, you can really see how everything is connected and the powerful impact of keeping food and its economy local. Summer did an amazing job highlighting the people changing the foodscape in the prairie region. The food we grow and how it is prepared is a true representation of a place, a people, and a climate. Which, frankly, is what I think food should be.”

And you needn’t be from the area to appreciate its riches. Taryn Huebner, Oprah Winfrey’s private chef, calls New Prairie Kitchen “a gift” and its recipes “mouthwatering” and “soul-quenching. This is more than a cookbook—it’s a love letter to the heartland,” Huebner writes.

The French Bulldog’s Bryce Coulton says the book celebrates individual and shared connections to food, as well as a “back-to-basics” approach.

“More than being prideful,” Coulton says, “Midwesterners exhibit an appreciation for the sincere efforts of their neighbors, be they farmers, artisans, or cooks. And Summer has told their stories: stories of relationships, collaboration, working toward a goal outside of our immediate selves.”

“I hope the book inspires people to cook at home and frequent restaurants that support our local farmers and artisans,” says Miller, “but also to explore their communities and discover the resources available to them. We are surrounded by so many wonderful people, flavors, and places. It’s a shame to overlook the diamonds in our own backyard.”

Sarah Wengert, the author of the story above, will moderate a panel at Summer Miller’s reading, discussion, and book-signing event at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 9 at the Bookworm.

SummerMillerWeb

Labor of Love

January 19, 2015 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In his first venture, The Grey Plume, chef/owner Clayton Chapman succeeds in proving an old-fashioned belief true: Food made with love truly tastes better.

Chapman now extends that truth across Farnam Street in Midtown Crossing, from what may be the nation’s most sustainable restaurant to Provisions by The Grey Plume, a retail store, artisan grocer, and private dining space opened last fall.

Those familiar with The Grey Plume’s magnificent house-made butter, preserves, and coffee, will swoon upon entering the lovely new space. Jars of jam, marmalade, mustard, apple butter, sauerkraut, and pickled beets with stylish labels denoting batch and jar numbers neatly line tall shelves, neighboring with coffee, bitters, chocolate, butter, baguette, and other inviting, house-made vittles.

“The [Grey Plume] menu is very seasonally driven and influenced by local farm supply,” says Chapman, “so to continue serving local food in winter months, we did a great series of pickling, canning, and preserving. We wanted to make those things that we’ve come to love so much available for home consumers.”

Chapman says he accounted for the short Nebraska produce season and forecasted demand to create a rather large Provisions inventory, which saw some late-fall additions including nut butters, charcuterie, and chocolate work (organic, fair-trade chocolate blended with locally sourced ingredients).

Beyond crystal-balling Provisions’ inventory, Chapman’s very hands-on with its creation. “The charcuterie production, the coffee roasting, the butter production, the chocolate-making,” he rattles off.

Provisions includes a private dining space accommodating 22 seats. It offers special menus and discreet A/V access, making it ideal for everything from birthdays to business. Provisions also offers a series of Saturday cooking classes in its kitchen, covering canning/preserving, knife skills, meat fabrication, and more. Chapman, his staff, and a series of guest chefs lead the sessions.

“We want to make local foods more approachable,” says Chapman. “It’s important to support your local farmers market; we can help people explore what to do with that food once they get it.”

Ceramic and wooden wares are also available alongside other select handmade goodies from local merchants. “We want to provide a well-rounded experience,” Chapman says, referring to non-edible items, like those from Black Iris Botanicals and Benson Soap Mill—vendors perfectly at home here. “The story behind their business practices are pretty wonderful, so we’re happy to partner.”

Provisions, like The Grey Plume, is certified by the Green Restaurant Association.

“It follows the same model—full recycling, full composting program, LED/CFL lighting, many recycled building materials,” says Chapman, pinpointing dining room fixtures and flooring made from recycled farm wood, as well as a gorgeous walnut table made from downed trees. “Besides just being common sense, we want to maintain authenticity and transparency in all our business practices that mirrors our food sourcing.

“It’s a labor of love,” says Chapman. And it’s true…you can taste the love.

20141210_bs_3778