Drew Nocente Is Betting Big On Skin And Bones

The Salted & Hung chef has new tasting menus that utilises every last bit of every ingredient.

Drew Nocente Is Betting Big On Skin And Bones

No onion skin is safe at Salted & Hung. The restaurant, which opened in 2016 with affable Aussie-Italian Drew Nocente at the helm, made waves for its meat-centric, “nose-to-tail” approach, which introduced local diners to the assertive idea of tripe and sweetbreads for dinner. 

Five years on and one pandemic later, Nocente has pivoted or, more accurately, evolved. Gone is the a la carte menu with its meaty, offal-spiked permutations. Gone too is the saucy Orwellian wall art, complete with anthropomorphic sheep and pigs. But don’t get the wrong impression: the baby hasn’t been thrown out with the bathwater — far from it. 

Meat and seafood still figure prominently in Nocente’s new menu, except it now has a razor-sharp focus on his mission from day one: minimal-waste cooking shaped by his thrifty upbringing on a Brisbane farm. 

The creative use of “forgotten parts” like skin and bones, protein and innards — and yes, onion skins — feature heavily in Salted & Hung’s new tasting menus ($148 and $188 for dinner, four-course lunch from $78) that are like networks of culinary tributaries, with ingredients creating rich flavours where they intersect. 

Onion skins are pyrolysed into charcoal powder that flavours the beef fat sauce in the Kagoshima wagyu dish. A wedge of Spanish turbot is seasoned with a fermented garum made from its skin and trimmings, and dressed with a sauce made from its liver cooked with vin jaune. The turbot’s bones, meanwhile, are hung and dried for two weeks above a Josper grill to make a broth for the accompanying dashi tea.

Charcuterie trimmings create a meaty broth for the plump Australian abalone, which is grilled with a mixture of its liver, butter and a vegemite-like yeast extract from the house-made sourdough. The sourdough itself is accompanied by a whipped lard made from pork fat trimmings rendered down and whipped. 

These intersections are helpfully illustrated in a pretty new menu card. But even if you’re not particularly interested in sustainability and “celebrating the beauty of the forgotten”, dinner will still be delicious thanks to Nocente’s deft, poised cooking.

But you really should be. 

Here, Nocente shares why everyone stands to win with minimal-waste cooking.

Minimal-waste cooking isn’t “trash on a plate”

“It’s not about using rotten fruit or shit meat. We buy beautiful local produce like beers, herbs and flowers and barramundi (from local fish farm Kühlbarra). In fact, many times we use some of the most expensive ingredients available! 

Minimal-waste cooking is about making the most of everything we get and using it to enhance flavour. Take our apple dessert. I was peeling the apples and realised we had a lot of apple skins. So now we sugar and bake them to make a praline that coats the apple, which gives it an extra boost of apple flavour.

We also found a way to do even more with our turbot. We take all the fatty parts — the skin, a little bit of the bones and stuff like that and make a really intense gelatinous broth by really cooking it down, and that we serve with the asparagus. The dish was fine as it was, but now the flavour is amped and hammers home our message even more. Every person that ‘gets it’ is a small victory.”

Minimal-waste cooking can mean more work 

“No chef wants to waste produce. But sometimes, being minimal-waste can cost you more money in labour. Fishbones for instance. Most make a broth, but they wouldn’t dehydrate them like we do because it’s labour intensive. Many restaurants might trim a piece of beef and throw the fat away because they can’t use it. But we’ll render it down and use the oil to cook the beef or use it to confit the carrots. I figured since I’m here every day, I might as well do a little extra work.”

Every restaurant solves problems differently

“Low waste is a mentality but food waste is different for and unique to every kitchen. It might be pea shells or coffee for one restaurant while for us it was bread, which we used to make vegemite. We asked ourselves: How can we cook something another way, by using what we have?

Also, it was just logical for us to change to a tasting menu in order to follow our philosophy of minimal waste. We have about 15 or 16 items on our tasting menu, while we had 30 for a la carte, which meant a lot more elements and food waste.”

Singapore has some way to go in reducing food waste

“I love living in Asia, but the amount of food waste here just does my head in. I worked in China, where people would order whole tables of food, eat one bite from each dish and send it back, just for ‘face’. And so much food is wasted here in Singapore (a recent government report found food waste has grown by around 20 percent over the last 10 years.) It’s pretty outrageous considering we’re such a small country. I was happy when the pandemic stopped buffets — people were complaining but I thought it was the best thing!”

There’s no ingredient that can’t be repurposed

“I haven’t found one yet — maybe durian shells?”

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