IT WAS AN ACT of culinary subterfuge. For years, Matt Wilkinson’s wife, Sharlee Gibb, an enterprising cook in her own right, would serve the unwitting chef and their two young boys a shepherd’s pie in which minced meat was stealthily replaced with blitzed beans. “It was only later I found out it was a vegetarian one,” says Wilkinson, who nonetheless relished the pie. That cleverly modified dish inspired the chef, known for Melbourne eateries The Pie Shop and Pope Joan, and his recipe for a spiced ‘shepherd’s’ pie.

All the recipes on these pages share an improvisational approach to leftover food. Excess vegies are given a fresh spin in comforting pot pies, surplus tomatoes are transformed into a tempting ragu, and unwanted grains add substance. “The recipes are all about using things up without even being an actual recipe,” says Wilkinson. “They’re based on ingredients I’ve been eating at home and seeing what gets wasted the most.”

When Pope Joan, his much-loved Brunswick East cafe, closed last year Wilkinson took some time off to ponder food waste. (Pope Joan has recently enjoyed a pop-up in Melbourne’s CBD.)

“You know when a recipe calls for 100 grams of sour cream,” he says. “What are you supposed to do with the other 200 grams?” Wilkinson is shining a light on residual ingredients in a forthcoming book he is writing with researchers from RMIT. “We’re studying the way different people prepare food at home,” he explains.

On a recent afternoon, the English native was making an espresso martini with a splash of creme de banane. The chef is a fan of bananas. For the adjacent dessert, he combined two of his favourite childhood sweets, banana split and bread and butter pudding, into one crowd-pleasing treat. Savoury pies are another specialty.

“In Australia they are like a national dish,” he says. Did he ever meet one he didn’t like? “I’m quite challenged by the classic English eel pie,” he reveals. Perhaps Gibb could recast that one, too.