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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Keeping up with the Green Gastronomic Joneses

Air Date: Week of

Chefs in training learn vital techniques like sautéing. (Photo: Jessica Ilyse Kurn)

The National Restaurant Association’s survey of “What’s Hot in 2012” placed local sourcing, sustainability and kitchen gardens all in the top ten. To stay current, culinary schools are starting to add courses in eco-conscious cooking to their curricula. Living on Earth’s Jessica Ilyse Kurn visited the Culinary Institute of America to find out how chefs-to-be are learning these new skills.


GELLERMAN: It's Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Being a chef isn’t easy.


GELLERMAN: The competition is intense.

[CLIP OF IRON CHEF: The time has come once again to answer life’s most savory question—whose cuisine reigns supreme? This is Iron Chef America.]

GELLERMAN: Cooking what’s trendy is one way chefs can get an edge on the competition, and these days - sustainability is on the cutting edge. Living on Earth’s Jessica Ilyse Kurn found that in some kitchens - chefs in training are learning how to keep up with the green gastronomic Joneses.


KURN: This could sound like another cooking competition, but Dwayne LiPuma’s not a TV star and there are no cameras in his kitchen. He’s the head Chef at St. Andrew’s Café, in Hyde Park, New York. And this restaurant is committed to using local, seasonal foods.

Chef Dwayne LiPuma calls out food orders to his students. (Photo: Jessica Ilyse Kurn)

LIPUMA: We change the menu every season, but then we nit and pick. Like all of sudden we can’t get any more butternuts, now we switch to pumpkin, you know or turnips, squashes, um beets.

KURN: He says being flexible is key since farmers are at the mercy of the weather and Mother Nature can be unpredictable.

LIPUMA: There have been many times I’m waiting at the docks and because of rain or whatever; you have to change your menu. So it is very challenging as a chef to stay seasonal and to do farm-to-table. And that’s also what makes it fun.

KURN: St. Andrews is not only a farm-to-table restaurant; it’s also a classroom at the Culinary Institute of America. Here students serve as the wait staff, pastry and sous chefs. This working classroom gets produce from 30 farmers in the surrounding Hudson Valley; and there’s a lot of it—20,000 pounds of Granny Smith apples, 98,000 pounds of yellow onions, and 780,000 eggs. Chef LiPuma says eating seasonal food maybe a fad at the moment, but it’s also satisfying.

LIPUMA: You can’t tell me that after you went skiing and you’re ice cold that you want to come in and have a slice of watermelon. You want that polenta; you want that stew. And in the summertime vice versa, you’re not out walking in the heat and coming in and saying, oh give me goulash, you’re gonna say let me have that peach, let me have that watermelon salad or whatever it happens to be.

KURN: And taking advantage of seasonal food gives LiPuma the chance to spice up the sameness of winter foods.

LIPUMA: We do buy things at the height of their freshness and peaks: like ramps, tomatoes, peaches, and we do a major canning that day. We might buy 300 pounds of peaches and then in the wintertime we might run like pork chops with spicy peach chutney.

KURN: St. Andrews Café is a unique classroom setting, but teaching extends beyond the restaurant kitchen to the Institute’s regular classrooms, where students in white toques—the signature chef’s marshmallow hat—scribble kitchen conversions on chalkboards and study the rigors of basic French cuisine. Sophomore, Rebecca Hibay.

HIBAY: We’ve really started to focus on how to be sustainable as a chef and how to focus on where we would procure our food and we were talking about it today in lecture -how when you buy local and buy in season it ends up saving you money in the long run.

Sophomore Rebecca Hibay cooks in Professor LiPuma’s class. (Photo: Jessica Ilyse Kurn)

KURN: Professors also focus on how to keep an eco-conscious kitchen—from recycling used cooking oil, to composting food scraps.

HIBAY: The compost that we actually generate here is taken to local farms and even though I have no culinary use for it, I know that it really is turning into a culinary value for me in the future by, you know, regenerating into the earth.

KURN: The wintry grounds of the Culinary Institute are dotted with pines, maples and barren garden beds. In warmer months these plots are filled with vegetables and herbs.

SRAMEK: My name is Andra Sramek, and I’m the supervisor of grounds, recycling and horticulture.


Andra Sramek shows off some of the food plants that grow in the Culinary Institute's garden. (Photo: Jessica Ilyse Kurn)

KURN: When Sramek arrived at the Culinary Institute, the grounds were covered with rhododendrons, ferns and other ornamental plants. Slowly she’s been ripping them out to create an edible landscape.

SRAMEK: This is mostly celery, but we had some parsley in here, and we had swiss chard and so now we’ve got string beans and a pumpkin that’s being eaten by a woodchuck. We had, before the woodchuck ate them, beautiful okra that were this big, it was just amazing and the students, you know so many of them are like, “what is that?” or they see the brussels sprouts and they’re like, “what is that?” And it’s like… it’s brussels sprouts and that’s okra growing. And so it’s this whole education thing going on also with the students…

KURN: They’re encouraged to pick and pluck from the garden for their hyper-local meals.

SRAMEK: And then you see the students come out with their big toques on, and their jackets and they’ve got their little snippers and scissors, and they’re just dumbfounded that here they are in their kitchen and they walk out here and literally one minute later they have this incredibly fresh parsley that they know came from here, didn’t come from California or Florida and they’re using it.

KURN: Teaching how and where food is grown in culinary schools is relatively new. It’s a trend following on the heels of what’s in vogue in professional kitchens. In the National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot in 2012” survey, local sourcing, sustainability and kitchen gardens all came out on top.

Melissa Kogut is the executive director of the Chefs Collaborative—a national network that focuses on culinary sustainability. She says schools are just starting to add courses to teach this philosophy.

[Office background sfx]

KOGUT: Historically in the last few years it's sort of been left up to individual instructors to add it into their curricula, but what we’re starting to see now is that the administration is making decisions to put it into the curriculum.

KURN: Kogut says culinary schools from Seattle to Providence are following this trend.

KOGUT: At Johnson and Wales they've actually added a sustainability track, where students can take a number of courses addressing nutrition and sustainability. And my thinking is that this is coming from the students who are applying. They want to have this kind of training.

KURN: But since it’s a relatively new trend in culinary schools, Kogut says the chefs who have been cooking this way taught themselves.

KOGUT: They come at it first from the quality of the ingredients—and they realize that the ingredients taste better when they’re local. That’s sort of the first step. And then they tend to get into all of the environmental reasons why sustainability is good.

KURN: These chefs have been on the frontlines, spearheading a change—including growing their own food on rooftops and in backyard gardens.

[Sound of opening the metal garden gate]

KURN: The students at the Culinary Institute of America also get a hands-on lesson in the student garden. Junior Edward Kopp.

KOPP: Part of it is the educational process of having the opportunity to put your hands in the dirt, and see that food takes time.

KURN: The long wait from seed to plate gives Kopp and other Culinary Institute students an appreciation for the journey that food takes.

KOPP: There is some farmer somewhere who is putting time, effort and care into delivering the best product possible for me to then deliver it to the public as great food.

Student Edward Kopp next to the beehive in the student-run garden on campus. (Photo: Jessica Ilyse Kurn)

KURN: So Kopp and his classmates will leave the Culinary Institute of America not just with the skills to make canapés and cassoulets, but also armed with a special understanding…

[CLIP FROM IRON CHEF: There is one more ingredient to this battle…our secret ingredient—the theme in which our chefs will offer their succulent variations. Today’s secret ingredient is…]

KURN: …Sustainable food. The secret ingredient that keeps them on the culinary cutting edge. For Living on Earth, I’m Jessica Ilyse Kurn in Hyde Park, New York.




The Culinary Institute of America

The Chefs Collaborative


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