July 29, 2014

By: Helena Stallings, Culinary Arts Student

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The perspective many culinary professionals have on the food used in the kitchen is very detached. Some cooks see food merely as a product that is used to achieve a profit and for others food is simply food, and nothing more. However for the few chefs and cooks that own, work on or visit farms, food is something to be respected and appreciated. Food is more than something that arrives on a truck a few times a week, it is our source for life. Unfortunately, the food system in our country has drastically deteriorated in the past few decades and the quality of our food has declined. As culinary professionals we make more of an impact on our food system based off of the orders we place and with the need for cheap products to help the restaurant’s bottom line, the culinary industry has aided in that decline. Luckily, one Colorado chef in particular is making huge waves in the culinary world by changing the way he not only sees food, but how he and his restaurant get it.

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Seven years ago Chef Eric Skokan realized that his restaurant, the Black Cat, was paying an absurd amount each month for herb flowers. This simple and tasty garnished was costing his restaurant an arm and a leg, so he decided to start his own herb garden to reduce his food costs. As time progressed he began building on the herb bed by turning it into a garden and eventually grew into a 130 + acre farm that includes several kinds of livestock, fowl and every kind of legume, seed and vegetable imaginable. Instead of waiting for the food trucks to arrive with produce each week, the cooks at Black Cat send a list of ingredients needed and the farm team spends the morning harvesting those ingredients to be used later that night in service. Not only does Chef Eric know where his food is coming from, but he knows how much work went into it. The most anticipated portion of Escoffier’s culinary program is the Farm-to-Table Experience. Last Monday my culinary class had the pleasure of spending the day at the Black Cat Farm learning how to not only farm, but farm for the direct needs of a restaurant. It is one thing to receive a crate of onions each week, but it is a completely different experience when it is you who is pulling the onions out of the ground and having the chance to taste what a fresh onion tastes like. As Chefs it is crucial that we understand our food and what it provides us, so that we can pass that knowledge and appreciation on to our customers. Our industry has the potential to reverse the deterioration of our food system and Escoffier is providing their students a first hand look at how obtainable it is. My class pulled over 4000 pounds of onions in 1 afternoon and we all walked away that evening with sore muscles and with huge smiles on our faces.

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