The Chef Connection

by: Allison Stawara

The Bailey GREENhouse and Urban Farm’s focus on student awareness of the food system is not complete without the students who come volunteer and learn about where their food comes from. But another very important partnership of this closed-loop food system is with the chefs who prepare and highlight our products in the campus dining halls. They are able to transform our humble ingredients into healthful and nutritious meals for the thousands of people (not just students) who walk through their doors daily.

At the Bailey GREENhouse and Urban Farm, we partner with our chefs to decide what will grow best for both their menus, and our scale of production. The two ends of the food spectrum, growing and preparing, come to meet in the middle at a yearly crop planning meeting, where we decide together what will be grown in the next season to supply the dining halls with the best local produce. The chefs provide us with feedback on the products they used or did not use frequently, along with herbs and vegetables that they would like to see us growing more of. We provide harvest and sales data to give the chefs a better picture of what we grew and what they purchased. Together, we are able to create a plan for the springtime crops that will grow well in our hoophouse, and will shine in the many dishes that they will create for MSU students and visitors across campus.

For the Bailey GREENhouse & Urban Farm, this opportunity allows us to fulfill our mission of helping close the food-loop on campus, and provides the students that volunteer and work in the hoophouse the chance to literally taste the fruits of their labor. For the chefs, this opportunity allows them to work with extremely fresh and local products, as well as support the students that they cook for. We recently asked some of our chefs why they choose to participate in this partnership, and their opinions on this unique relationship between students and chefs. Sous Chef Kari Magee and Head Corporate Chef Kurt Kwiatowski from the MSU Test Kitchen and Food Trucks, along with Sous Chef Matt Wilson from the Kellogg State Room gave us their side of the closed-loop story of organic food on campus.

Q: What does it mean for you to be able to source products from Bailey GREENhouse and Urban farm?

Kari & Kurt: We utilize the Bailey Greenhouse and Urban Farm for both of our Food Trucks. For us, it means that we can focus and showcase local ingredients. We make our dishes from scratch and love to incorporate the fresh produce that the Greenhouse and Farm have to offer. There are many times we work around what is in season, especially in the Summer, to offer our customers MSU organic dishes.

Matt: It means fresher product to incorporate into our recipes and plate presentations which translates to more bold and pronounced flavor profile for our guests to enjoy. It also allows us a certain amount of pride in knowing that we are helping to support a fantastic farming program!

Q: What role does communication and co-planning play in allowing you to source from the GREENhouse?

Kari & Kurt: For the Food Trucks, communication and co-planning makes a difference in how we create our menus and what we can forecast for product. For instance, when we want to switch to a seasonal menu, we know that we can menu certain items. Last summer, we were guaranteed cucumbers that we pickled for our burgers.

It also is an exciting chance for the Chefs on campus to have a hand in choosing ingredients for their venues, with the farmers. It becomes a great relationship from the farm to the chef’s plate to the customers.

Matt: Co-planning is helpful in the respect that we have an idea what is going to be produced and can look ahead when writing seasonal menus. We like to feature locally grown items whenever we can, and so being able to request certain items to be grown so that we can showcase them is exciting as a chef. Communication allows us to know when those items are coming into season, so we can get ready to focus on those ingredients and really make them shine in our dishes.

Q: What are the strategic differences between sourcing from the GREENhouse and other more conventional food service sources?

Kari & Kurt: There is a difference in product taste and freshness when comparing local farms with commercial vendors. Produce that is freshly picked from a few miles away, tastes very different from produce picked days before and shipped from many miles away. We have product harvested that day and brought over to our kitchen straight from the farm.

The fact that we even have that option, to have produce from our own Farms, is an excuse.

Matt: The major difference is the ordering system, which works differently for our larger purveyors versus the smaller scale that Bailey works at. The more face-to-face contact and physical order forms gives us a slightly different system to work with, but it has worked well for us so far.

Q: Why do you support the Bailey GREENhouse and Urban farm and other sustainably sourced food?

Kari & Kurt: Both the Greenhouse and the Urban Farm have done an amazing job in offering a variety of options, for our Food Trucks to create dishes with. The included pork as well as produce. We are able to teach our students the different flavors of things they may have not every tried. We, as Culinarians, get to spark our own imaginations with the various combinations we can create.

I think, for us, the number one reason that we support our local farms and vendors, is relationship. We build relationship with the farmers and the love the food is given. That then goes into how we prepare our dishes and give it to the customers.

Allison Stawara is a junior pursuing her Bachelors of Science in Organic and Sustainable Horticulture. She is a crew member at the Student Organic Farm, as well as the student manager of the Bailey GREENhouse & Urban Farm.

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