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Cream of the Crop: Garden Spices up Culinary Arts

Fall 2010 | Archives


At first glance, the produce is familiar. But look closely—tomatoes are black, cucumbers are brown, eggplants are yellow and sweet corn is blue.

These twists on a chef's staples are exactly what Garden Specialist Patrick Duffy is growing. Duffy is caretaker of MCC's first on-campus garden that will teach Culinary Arts and Horticulture students how to bring food from the ground to the table. The Fort Omaha Campus quarter-acre garden is an exercise in urban agriculture; dozens of varieties of vegetables are grown without pesticides and chemicals in a small area. "A lot of people still think of food in boxes or in cans in the supermarket, not something in dirt," said Jennifer Valandra, Special Projects Manager at the Institute for the Culinary Arts (ICA). "We are showing students the sustainability aspects of a local garden, but also showing them how to be creative with their ingredient choices. We will give students more tools to work with."

As the garden matures, Culinary Arts students will learn how to cultivate produce and utilize the fruits of their labor in menu development and recipes. Through the use of moveable, unheated greenhouses, the garden will produce nine to ten months out of the year. Locally grown ingredients will feature prominently in menu items at the Sage Student Bistro, which opens for Fall quarter at the end of September. Students are already enhancing dishes with herbs from the patio garden, just outside the Bistro.

Faculty at the ICA say cultivation and sustainability is becoming increasingly important in the restaurant industry as diners and chefs integrate local, sustainable foods into their menus. The Bistro Garden, located just steps from the ICA, will expose students to tasty food with a low environmental impact. "The carbon footprint is literally footprints across the parking lot," Duffy said.

Moreover, students are learning that organically grown foods can have better flavor than large-scale commercial produce—meaning the chefs' future creations will be even more mouth-watering.

From the Bistro Garden: Blue Sweet Corn. What 
                                     are they? Blue Jade heirloom corn, a dwarf blue sweet corn. One of the few sweet corns 
                                     that can be grown in containers, the plants grow 2 to 3 feet tall and produce small cobs 
                                     about 5 inches long. The steel blue cobs turn jade blue when boiled. How to use: Eat fresh 
                                     as corn on the cob while kernels are tender, just as they start to turn from white to blue.
                                     Alternatively, leave the ears on the stalk until they mature and harden to later dry and 
                                     grind for blue corn flour. Menu ideas: Blue corn flour can be used to make pancakes, 
                                     scones, tortillas and delicious blue corn enchiladas.
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