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Fighting Food Waste with Chef Charlie Ayers

Zero Waste Kitchen

Last Updated on January 23, 2024

Welcome to our very first “Eco Friendly Tuesdays!” You’ll still be getting two posts a week, Thursdays and Saturdays, that talk about DIYs, lifestyle, and recipes.

But, I’ve set aside Tuesday to talk about the movers and shakers, current events, and just cool stuff! If there’s anything you think I should know about feel free to send me a message

fighting food waste with chef charlie ayers from #foodwaste

I had the pleasure of chatting with Chef Charlie Ayers. He was the very first chef at google and helped found the free, healthy food environment that makes silicon valley the envy of the world.

By the time he left, he was head chef of the 10 cafes on campus and serving 4,000 lunches and dinners a day.

My personal conclusion: he’s the reason Google is so successful – ‘grammers can’t ‘gram on an empty stomach. 

In 2009, he opened is own restaurant, Califia Cafe in Palo Alto, which focuses on local, organic, and healthy food.

It offers a huge vegetarian and vegan selection. And Steve Jobs just happened to eat there every day. NBD.

And, in his free time he does really lame stuff like cater for the Grateful Dead and write books like, “Food 2.0: Secrets from the Chef who Fed Google.”

And, by lame – I mean awesome. Charlie was way ahead of the curve on zero waste and going organic.

He offers all of his tips in colorful pages with easy to follow and very digestible (food pun: totally intended) tips, tricks, and recipes.

He offers a lot of advice on how to eat fast and healthy all while trying to reduce food waste. Also tons of insightful information about going organic and what that really means. I highly, highly recommend it. 

Q: When did you first move from conventional to organic? 

A: It took place in the early 90’s catering backstage at a music festival in Golden Gate Park. I met the founder of Muir Glen Organic canned tomatoes, and it changed the way I thought about food.

After a conversation we had, over the simplest way to explain to someone, why eating organic foods are better for you and the reason why you should spend the few extra bucks. It’s about the elimination of fossil fuels from your diet.

There are nasty pesticides derived from petroleum and you don’t want to put that into your body. After that conversation, I embraced organic food from then on. 

Q: Even food that is pesticide-free, isn’t totally organic? 

A: That’s right. They may use synthetic fertilizers which is bad for the local environment, the soil, and for you. Eating truly organic means the soil is clean for the water and food that you’re putting on your table. 

Q: So, how do you know if it’s clean? 

A: Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you go to the local farmers market. Don’t be embarrassed to ask. When it comes to packaged goods, read the labels. The ingredients at the top of the list are the ones that are most plentiful in the product.

For Juices this means making sure it’s fresh! When shopping for beef or dairy, look for grass fed. For oils, look for cold-pressed and unrefined. The bottom line, when you are at the farmers market, a restaurant, or a grocery store – ask them questions and build a relationship.

Q: Building relationships is so important. It’s one of my favorite aspects of living a zero waste lifestyle. It’s getting to know people; putting a face to all of the items in my life. It helps foster a story which leads to repairing and caring – it leads to sustainability. So, what questions should we be asking about our food? 

A: Ask the following:

  • Where was this grown?
  • Was it treated with pesticides?
  • When did this shipment arrive?
  • What’s in season?
  • What’s the best product you have right now?
  • What pairs with what you happen to be cooking on a particular evening.

Q: How do you combat food waste in your restaurant? 

A: I serve smaller portions than the neighboring restaurant. We cross utilize a crazy amount at Califia Cafe. For example, we use our salmon scrap for salmon burgers, salmon salad melts, and salmon corn chowder (it’s a spicy red chowder).

All of our beef butchering of steaks, short ribs, beef tenderloins and rib eye are ground in a special burger blend we call the four-star burger. 90% of leftover bread is made into either breadcrumbs or croutons for the market salad bar.

Day old bagels are made into chips, cookies are cut into smaller pieces and folded into a cheesecake or turned in the crust for the cheesecake. 

Q: What’s your favorite way to use food scraps?

A: There are a number of ways we use food scraps at Calafia Cafe. One thing I like to do is peel my broccoli stems and roast them for my broccoli zucchini pizza. We also fry the asparagus peels and use it as a garnish with a poached egg and asparagus dish.

The tiny green leaves beneath the heads of cauliflower make a great garnish on my cauliflower soup. We also trade with a local farmer with product from our juice bar.

When blanched lightly, all the vegetable bi-product from our juice bar goes to the farmer, who gives us eggs in exchange.

Q: I know you have a market for on the go, can people bring their own container to be zero waste? 

A: Yes. We have people who come in and bring their own to-go containers. It’s something I’m always supportive of because my goal is to always find ways to reduce waste.

Cue the internal fireworks. This is the future! 

Q: One, last question: what’s your favorite dish you make? 

A: I love to cook and am always creating new dishes but there are a number of old favorites on the menus too. One of the most popular items is an Asian inspired dish called, Mahogany Salmon.

It’s a dish I developed for a family I cooked privately for before going to Google. I still make it today. It was hugely popular when I was cooking at Google and I still have Googlers come in for the Mahogany Salmon to this day! 

I had so much chatting with Chef Charlie Ayers. It’s fascinating hearing about food waste from a business stand point versus a home kitchen.

If you are in the area, I highly recommend you check out his restaurant. If you’re not, you can grab a copy of his book “Food 2.0,” but I realized I forgot to ask the most important question! 

Q: Chef Charlie, when are you going to cook for me!? 

Calafia Cafe855 El Camino Real #130, Palo Alto, CA 94301

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  1. Late to this, but I know Charlie from his Google days while he was taunting all the Zero fans (Steve Kimock) with those exquisite menus from Google… While we were living in places like Norman, Oklahoma. Where Indian food and burritos were "fancy and weird."
    Eventually, we contracted with him as part of a NYE run with Kimock in Colorado at the Gothic Theatre.
    Charlie brought me back to cooking as exploration, and not just getting healthy food on the table.

    There are rumors of another book…

    Good going, Charlie.