Over the years, chef Nick Balla has used the menus he’s created at restaurants like Bar Tartine, Motze, and Duna to highlight what he calls “peasant cooking,” bringing techniques like fermenting, pickling, and drying into the spotlight. Now the chef is planning a new project: Duna Kitchen will be a zero-waste waste restaurant and processing facility to eliminate food waste.
Produce purveyors like Good Eggs and Imperfect Produce frequently find themselves with a surplus of goods that can’t be sold, goods that could become something delicious in the right kitchen. The idea for Duna Kitchen, says Balla, is to process very large volumes of B-grade produce — think 1,500 pounds of overripe plums or an overwhelmingly huge amount of dandelion greens — into delicious food.
To do this, Balla is custom-designing a kitchen filled with equipment like tilt skillets and huge dehydrators that are meant for large-scale production. That processing facility will be the main function of Duna Kitchen (which Balla says is “a working name”), with other streams of revenue in development. That includes a counter service location of Smokebread, the Central European influenced lunch restaurant Balla is operating out of the Perennial, plus a bakery, and ticketed dinner series. (Picture a 3,000-square-foot space filled with kitchen equipment that also serves as a dining room with butcher block seating and a retail section.)
Wholesale is also a goal, providing the processed fresh food to companies that aren’t set up for production themselves, under the Duna Kitchen brand, with Smokebread dips and spreads in smaller compostable packages.
Though the type of produce that comes Balla’s way is often donated, he says the plan is to pay for it. “Ideally the larger goal is to create value for these products and not count on anything being free,” says Balla. “I want to create value for all that product and get it out of the compost or plowed back in the field, create a market for it so its saving energy.”
“It should benefit everyone through the supply chain, from farmers all the way up to us,” says Balla. “So we can buy larger quantities of things that would have been wasted for less but still be able to use it and create large volumes.”
The chef is still a long way off from an opening: a lease needs to be signed, fundraising must be done, and key business details are early in development. In the interim, Balla hopes to start recipe testing and processing on a smaller scale in a commissary kitchen, while those plans come together.
“The way I’m designing this kitchen leaves all avenues open,” says Balla. “The most important thing is we’re building this kitchen and processing the product to create food that is simple, and delicious.”