Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Student Chefs Dig Into Their Field

Marty Meitus, Rocky Mountain News

Joan Brett has no interest in buying raspberries out of season. The cost is too high - and she's not talking about the price at the store. She's referring to the environmental impact of bringing in those berries from places like Chile.

"The fact that we're screwing up our planet, I don't need those raspberries," she says. "It's only six to eight months of the year (when you don't have them) and it makes them special."

Brett is doing more than paying lip service to the cause. Owner of the Culinary School of the Rockies in Boulder, she has added what may be the first outside-the-classroom program to incorporate the concept of farm-to-table training for would-be chefs. Students will spend five weeks outside the classroom, first in the North Fork Valley, then working at Leroux Creek Inn Bed and Breakfast and Winery near Hotchkiss, then going to Sustainable Settings, a 250-acre nonprofit center and ranch in Carbondale that teaches sustainability.

When Brett took an exploratory trip to the North Fork Valley, "I was met with such excitement and enthusiasm about moving the farmers' vision into the restaurants."

Students will help with winemaking, cheesemaking, learning about soil and composting, harvesting and preparing menus from what they've gathered.

"We're a cooking school, not a farming school, but the experience is going to make these students aware of where the food comes from. (They'll gain) an in-depth knowledge of soil and what it takes to put those ingredients on the plate."

Back in Boulder County, they'll "get steeped in where food comes from" at various farms, with a community dinner at the end. Brett says the program will have lasting benefits.

"It's multilayered because it's going to affect consumers and the community, and I think these students will wind up being ambassadors for dealing respectfully with food."

The local push helps farmers who at one time might have had to abandon their livelihood because they weren't able to produce enough for the wholesale market. But, she says, "by selling to restaurants and the public, a lot of them have turned around."

Not so many years ago, "eating local" meant heading out for McDonald's up the street. But now consumers are tuning in. "It's not going to be overnight, but it's exciting to be part of it."

Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO)

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