Here's something I didn't know that I learned on Bon Appetit yesterday. A well-maintained compost pile can get hot enough to cook in. In fact, an unnamed New York City restaurant is experimenting with this process and "using the heat from decomposing scraps to cook food." The restaurant wishes to remain anonymous for legal reasons.

A compost heap can reach an internal temperature of 160 to 170 degrees, and that is hot enough to safely cook something, if done correctly. In fact, the piece tells of one Vermont chef, Suzanne Podhaizer, who cooked an entire meal in a compost heap. The meal consisted of branzino, scallops, radicchio, garlic, minced red peppers, and jasmine rice, all cooked inside plastic bags and foil for four hours at the center of a compost heap. The rice lost its texture because it became compacted under the weight of the compost, but the rest of the meal turned out just fine.

This isn't a new concept. Mother Earth News did a piece in 1980 titled "Hot Compost: You Can Cook With It." Jim McClarin successfully cooked everything from eggs to a roast in his home compost.

First of all, this would make for a really great experiment for kids with access to compost — either at home or at school. It would be a much better thing to do with eggs than carry them around and pretend they're babies. (Do they still do that?) I'd love to see this done with potatoes, too. How long does it take a potato to bake in a compost pile?

But, if this method of cooking with compost is proven safe, think of the sustainable possibilities beyond kids' experiments. Slow cooking without the slow cooker. I know people who are afraid to use slow cookers when they leave the house because they worry it'll catch on fire. There's no worry of that when you've popped tonight's dinner into the backyard compost before you leave for work. Nothing gets plugged in and you're using a completely sustainable source of energy to cook.

Restaurants that generate tons of compostable material could take advantage of this, too. It will be interesting to find out if the unnamed New York City restaurant that is already doing this ever gets approval and acknowledges publicly what it's doing.

Would you eat a meal that was cooked in compost? As long as I knew the internal temperature of whatever I was eating had reached the proper temperature, I’d give it a try.

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Cooking food inside compost
Temperatures inside a compost pile can get hot enough to cook everything from fish to a roast.