From fried banana skins to leftover potato waffles, Max La Manna creates plant-based recipes as good for the palate as they are for the planet.
What inspired you to focus on plant-based and low-waste cooking?
I came to plant-based cooking and living a little over 11 years ago. My father’s side of the family has heart problems and high cholesterol. So, I was very conscious at a young age of taking care of myself.
In terms of low-waste cooking, I worked in restaurants for nearly 15 years. Having looked at where our food comes from to where it ends up and everything in between, food is being wasted every second of every single day in our households, in our businesses, on the farm. I really became conscious of that when I was working in restaurants.
“Some of the top culprits of food that ends up in our bins are potatoes, bread, bananas and milk.”
I wanted to make a change myself. Before I pointed any fingers at anyone else, I had to point that finger at me and look at what ingredients I was throwing away. It’s been a little over six years now and I’ve minimised my food waste to practically zero by utilising every single component of my food. But it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes patience and time to get to where I’m at.
You’ve just released your second cookbook, You Can Cook This, and you share recipes online. Where do your ideas come from?
I try to look at my fridge or go to the supermarket and look at an ingredient and think: how can I utilise this ingredient to the fullest? When I wrote the book, I asked my audience which foods they were throwing away the most. That gave me inspiration.
What do people throw away the most?
Some of the top culprits of food that ends up in our bins are potatoes, bread, bananas, milk and bags of leafy greens and herbs. I think the reason why we waste so much of these ingredients is because most of them are purchased in bulk. So, if you look at a bag of potatoes, there might be 10-20 potatoes in a bag.
What are your top tips for minimising food waste?
In the UK and the US, anywhere between 30-40% of the food we bring into our own homes goes to waste. So, cooking the food you already have I think is a great way of minimising the amount of food you waste.
There are things you can do like placing your herb stems in water to extend the shelf life of the herbs. If a carrot or a cucumber or a courgette goes soft and limp, you can chop it up, place it in a jar of water and it should crisp right back up. I’ve done this with salad leaves as well. A stale loaf of bread you could run underneath water. It could be as hard as a rock. Run it underneath some water, place it in the microwave or in an oven on a low setting, and the loaf of bread should come back to life. Or blitz it up in a food processor and put it in your freezer to have breadcrumbs for later.
You often talk about cooking with joy. Is there a dish you most enjoy cooking?
This is a tough one because I make a decision when I walk into the kitchen to have fun. Sometimes I’m on autopilot and the dish kind of just unfolds. But I allow there to be space for me to mess up, allow space to let new ideas come through. So, for me, joy is all about preparing a dish that is going to be delicious.
Your family is a big reason why you do what you do. Have they embraced a more plant-based diet?
I used to push it on to them and tell them, hey, you need to eat more plants, you need to eat more plants. I quickly learned that that wasn’t the way to win them over. By simply doing, by being who I’m meant to be and cooking and eating and living the way that I wanted to, my parents, my family would see this, and they would make changes.
I’m proud to say that both my parents and my siblings have reduced the amount of meat that they consume. They’ve started incorporating more plants on their plate, they’ve started to look at their total overall output into the world, and what they buy and what they bring into their home. They are becoming more and more conscious of the environment, their health and their happiness through the choices that they make. I like to think that I’ve inspired them a little bit, so hopefully that spreads to other people as well.
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