I approach Joel Gamoran’s West Seattle home with some trepidation. I am worried he will try to make me eat something weird.
And he does. “Try that!” he says, handing me a leaf. “What does it taste like?” I chew a bit. It’s bitter and then sweet. It tastes something like a pea, I tell him. “Yes! It’s a pea leaf,” he responds. “Isn’t that great?”
Gamoran, who grew up in the Seattle area, has always loved to cook. “I found that cooking was like LEGOs,” he says. “You could follow the instructions and build something predictable, or you could make your own creation.”
After his parents divorced and family meals became less frequent, he found cooking brought his family together. He started to understand the connective power of food.
Gamoran trained as a chef and quickly learned that in the restaurant business, nothing is wasted. But when he started giving classes to home cooks at Sur La Table, he noticed his students’ overflowing garbage bowls. Combined with his awareness of this country’s tendency to waste food (30-40 percent of the food supply goes to waste, according to the US Department of Agriculture), Gamoran developed a passion for repurposing food waste. That led to his own TV show, Scraps, in which Gamoran travels around the country in his beat-up 1963 VW van, Pippi, outfitted as a kitchen on wheels. In each city, Gamoran inspires locals to cook with things that they normally throw away.
“In Montana, we did off-cuts of beef, because beef is really big there,” he says. “In Santa Fe, we used stale tortillas…. Wherever we travel, the ingredients represent where we are.”
Gamoran offers his favorite tips for civilians in the scrappy movement: Save brown bananas for banana cake, bread, or pancakes. Save the peels and soak them in cream to use for ice cream or caramel sauce or chop the peel and add it to a chutney. Use carrot tops and beet greens anytime you’d use parsley. Place lemon peels in a jar with salt, wait a week, and you’ll have preserved lemon peel to use in tagines, salads, or relish.
Gamoran’s new show, Seconds, comes out this fall on Yummly and his own channel. It will be filmed in his West Seattle kitchen.
“The idea behind this new show is to share the idea that anyone can come home, open the fridge, and whip up something with the ingredients they already have,” he says. “Oh, I’ve got some melon and some chicken. I can pickle the melon and make a really cool salsa and put it over the chicken.” Gamoran is fortunate to have the support of news anchor Katie Couric, who became his mentor and cooking partner. “One of my goals is to do for cooking what Katie did for news,” he says. “She made it very digestible and approachable.”