By: Anthony Joseph
For many in the culinary world, duck fat is considered liquid gold. But for Algonquin culinary arts professor David Fairbanks, an excess of unused duck and other animal fats presented a wasteful dilemma.
Re-purposing the excess fat into a line of locally and student-produced scented bar soaps.
A few years ago, as part of their sustainability initiative, the culinary arts department wanted to become as environmentally conscious as they could possibly be. To augment that, they started looking at fat and its possible uses.
“We just started looking through old farmer almanacs, googling fat and its uses and one of the things that kept coming up was soap,’’ said Fairbanks.
The project started small at first, with just hotel-style sample bars being made. Recently through applied research, production has been able ramp up to the point where they are now selling seven different types of bars, inside and outside of the college.
Fairbanks chose duck fat for the first bars partly because it was more marketable.
“Duck fat tends to be, from a marketing point, a bit more acceptable than if we just started off with pork fat or chicken fat or beef fat,” said Fairbanks.
“Duck fat has that almost romantic notion to it, and you’re able to kind of slip it into the general public.’’
The bars currently come in seven types, ranging from a chicken fat and orange oil mixture called Foul Fowl to a beef fat, star anise and clove mixture called Raging Bull.
Sheila Whyte, the owner of Thyme & Again, was eager to carry the product when she first heard about it.
“I thought it was a great idea. I heard about it years ago when David had first started and, at that time, I had expressed interest but he hadn’t developed it yet,’’ said Whyte.
“As soon as I heard it was ready, we were more than happy to try it.’’
The production process, which should optimally be completed in just over a month’s time, is primarily handled by students in the culinary arts program.
Most of the fat used is crowd-sourced so students will pick it up at participating restaurants. That, according to Fairbanks, can also open up future opportunities.
“So they’ll go to other restaurants and introduce themselves to those restaurants as student cooks from Algonquin College,’’ said Fairbanks. “And it’s an industry they’ll be going into anyways so it’s a great way to make contacts with the chefs and sous-chef out there.”
After procuring 20 litres of each type of fat, students will add around 60 litres of water to simmer it for about an hour and a half before straining out the water and taking out the fat.
“The water will take with it the majority of the sediments and spices,” said Fairbanks.
“We repeat that process three times and then the water becomes pretty clear.”
Once it has been cleaned, they take out the fat, put it in clean 20 litre containers and bring it down to the Purple Urchin, an Ottawa-based soap producer who helps them develop the recipes.
Once the base costs are covered, the proceeds will then go directly to an emergency slush fund for students within the department. Students are also in charge of running the online shop.
For Fairbanks, there isn’t much of a downside to this project.
“It’s culinary based, it’s primarily made by the students, the proceeds are going back to the students and we’re eliminating waste,” said Fairbanks.
But above all, he hopes students learn an important lesson.
“Chicken doesn’t just come from a grocery store. The entire process ultimately comes down to respecting the animal,’’ said Fairbanks.
“It’s very easy to toss something out and forget about it, but you have to redefine the idea of what waste actually is.’’
“For some people it’s all about farm to fork, but then what happens after the fork, there has to be another connection.”
The team is currently working on a new pork, oregano and lemon mixture along with a lamb-based bar.
Those interested can purchase the bars at Savoir Faire, the Fitness Zone, Red Apron, Thyme & Again, Pêches & Poivre and online at www.dirtyducksoap.ca