CAN ENVIRONMENTALISM EVER be a celebration of excess? It may seem absurd, but Shuggie’s Trash Pie + Natural Wine in San Francisco’s Mission district proves it possible.
Co-owners Kayla Abe and David Murphy unveiled their “food waste paradise” in April, splashing the corner of 23rd Street and Bartlett with a monochromatic melt of creamed corn yellow and pickled greens, psychedelically saturated with writhing patterns and whimsical furnishings.
Shuggie’s menu echoes its maximalist appearance, littered with upcycled food ingredients like blemished produce, farm surplus, and meat off-cuts in an effort to mitigate food waste.
“40% of all food in the US is trashed, often for absurd reasons like cosmetic irregularity or overabundance,” their mission statement reads. “In 2020, climate solutions organization Project Drawdown named reducing food waste the #1 most impactful way we can combat climate change.”
In response, Shuggie’s welcomes all manner of rejects. “Ugly shrooms,” “sunburned squash” and “abandoned chard” top grandma-style “trash pies,” crafted using whey produced during the cheesemaking process.
Designing menu items is “an act of reverse engineering,” Abe explains. “We have a lot of very open lines of communication with our producers, so we’re chatting with them at least weekly if not biweekly, and we’re figuring out what they have that’s excess.”
The result is a menu in flux, dependent on seasonal shifts and supply changes. New additions include a swordfish belly crudo and a beef heart meatball dish featuring meat offcuts, as well as a vodka sauce pizza using vodka sourced from whey.
“There’s an infinite number of different types of upcycling projects that can happen,” Abe says. “[David and I] definitely chat a lot together lying in bed at 2 a.m., like, ‘What if this happened?’”
Abe salutes Murphy as the “brains behind the culinary creativity.” While Murphy has nearly two decades worth of experience as a chef, Abe arrived at food through an interest in sustainable agriculture.
Years ago, when the two serendipitously met at San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, they discovered they shared complementary passions and concerns.
“Food waste was this common thread,” Abe recalls. “Both David and I heard the same stories from the same farmers over many years, and once we met and put these stories together, we were like, ‘Let’s do something about this!’”
Their first collaborative venture into food sustainability was Ugly Pickle Co., a retail collection of upcycled pickles and condiments. Since then, they’ve agreed the restaurant is a more efficient answer to their aims, as it utilizes a greater variety of food waste and allows for an interactive experience.
“Our hope is that we’re educating others, mainly our guests but also hopefully inspiring other restaurants to take a leap into using upcycled [ingredients],” Abe says. “The only way a restaurant like ours will be successful is if we’re bringing other people into this, too.”