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My First F-Up: Don’t Throw Good Food Away

Eater Young Gun Felipe Riccio (’14) learned the hard way that fish bones do not belong in the trash

An illustration of a fish skeleton and fish meat in the garbage.
Rebecca Flint Marx is the editor of Eater at Home. Her areas of expertise include home cooking and popular culture.

My First F-Up is a series in which we ask Eater Young Guns and industry talent to recall their first — or most notable — on-the-job failure.

2019 has been a busy year for Eater Young Gun Felipe Riccio (’14): As the executive chef of the Houston restaurant group Goodnight Hospitality, he’s opening two restaurants and a wine and cheese shop with his business partner, David Keck. To say that Riccio, who was born in Mexico and grew up there and in the Houston suburbs, has learned a lot of business savvy along the way is an understatement. But one of his more enduring lessons came when Riccio got schooled in the art of kitchen waste management.

“I was working for an old-school French chef in the suburbs of Houston, where I grew up. He would always talk about how he grew up in kitchens, and how important it was to use as much as you can of [every ingredient]. He was a stickler about it. We had two or three other cooks; one did prep, two were on the line, and they would always tell me, ‘Make sure you don’t throw stuff away, because he’ll notice.’

“One night we had this big event. One cook was butchering and cleaning some fish, and he asked me to clean up his station. So I threw [the fish] away, not really thinking about it. At the end of the night the chef came by and picked up the trash can. I’d never noticed that [he’d do that] before, but he’d walk by and feel how heavy the bin was. He looked right at me, walked out the back door, and said, ‘Come with me, we’re going to throw out the trash.’ He literally dumps the trash on the ground and starts pointing at everything I shouldn’t have throw away, telling me what I could do with it in a somewhat angry but not super-rude way. ‘You could have made stock with this, could have used that better.’

“He didn’t do it because he wanted to save the planet. For him, it was dollar signs; it was always about food costs and utilizing something better. As a young cook, I was pissed — what an asshole, now I’ve gotta pick up fish bones in the parking lot. But it stuck with me. To this day, I tell my cooks, when you’re doing something, think about why you’re doing it that way, don’t just do it because you were taught to. Now, we save all of the scraps at the restaurant and ferment them through bokashi, a Japanese composting method, and then we take them to our farm and use them for our soil.”

Rebecca Flint Marx is a James Beard Award-winning food writer based in Brooklyn.