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December 11, 2000

Aspiring chefs put on a tasty buffet at the UCSC Farm

By Jennifer McNulty

The UCSC Farm regularly hosts visitors from all around the world, from academics to home gardeners. But the group that showed up on December 6 from the Culinary Institute of America was uniquely popular among staff of the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS).

Photo of Peter Kielec
Peter Kielec, a Culinary Institute of America student, checks the chicken he's preparing for lunch at the UCSC Farm.
Photo: Jennifer McNulty
Twenty-five students from the institute's Hyde Park campus in New York toured the Farm as part of their education about sustainable agriculture and food-production issues. The visit was one stop during their four-week field trip in California, and it ended with preparation of a luscious six-course meal they shared with CASFS faculty and staff.

The buffet was impressive, overflowing with pork ribs; chicken with garlic sauce; roasted squash; braised Asian greens; potato salad with an apple, bacon, and mustard vinaigrette; and a mixed-green salad with pear, walnut, and blue cheese dressing. Not enough? Don't forget the dessert: persimmon bread pudding with whipped cream.

"The potatoes were my favorite," said Farm manager Jim Leap. "I don't know what it was, but it was delicious."

"The dessert was sooo good," said CASFS senior editor Martha Brown.

"It was awesome," said John Fisher, CASFS outreach coordinator. "The food was good, but what's really great is that we expose them to quality food production, and they expose us to quality food preparation. The visit makes that connection vivid for everyone."

The kitchen was a scene of organized chaos in the final moments of cooking, with white-jacketed students and instructors tasting, stirring, pouring, and heaping piles of food on platters.

Hovering over a steaming pot, student chef Peter Kielec said the Farm tour was a great stop on their trip, which has included five cities and visits to wineries, farms, and even the Jelly Belly factory.

"Anything having to do with food, we're learning about," said Kielec, a junior in the Culinary Institute's restaurant-management program. "We're totally into sustainable agriculture and organic foods--making sure there's earth to grow the food we feed everybody."

The group's previous stops included an introduction at UC Davis to genetically modified organisms, which advocates say are necessary to feed an expanding world population.

"After they saw our Farm and heard about our work, the students were shaking my hand and saying how refreshing our work is," said Fisher. "It was gratifying. The Culinary Institute definitely sees the value of exposing their students to organic farming."

Although the institute brings student groups to the Farm twice yearly, this trip marked the first time the aspiring chefs got to cook.

"We hope to continue with the cooking," said Fisher, who added that some Culinary Institute graduates have been inspired to enroll in the Farm's organic farming apprenticeship program after their visit.

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