Starting this month, culinary schools applying for accreditation will have to show that their curricula include instruction in concepts such as recycling, conserving water and buying local produce. But participants in a sustainability symposium held this weekend at the Seattle Culinary Academy complained it's not always easy to meld environmental concerns with the rigors of basic culinary instruction.
"It's expensive," sighed a culinary educator after a team-building exercise in which dozens of teachers from across the country were sent on a Top Chef-style mission to the Broadway Farmers Market. His group learned it's sometimes hard to stretch $20 at the market, a conundrum administrators face on a larger scale when drafting shopping lists for their schools' training kitchens.
Buying seasonally can also pose a problem when instructors reach the ratatouille chapter of their textbooks in January, educators report.
To help educators better understand the hows and whys of integrating sustainability into their culinary schoolwork., the Center for the Advancement of Foodservice Education asked the Seattle Culinary Academy - an award-winning program which in 2005 became the first in the nation to launch formal sustainability coursework - to host a three-day symposium, complete with farm field trips and cheese-making sessions.
"This is just what we do," says associate dean Linda Pal Chauncey. "It's because of our belief that chefs are gatekeepers of the food system. Their buying decisions will inform what is grown and what is consumed."
The handbook used for Sustainable Food Systems Practices covers broad concepts, such as "honor the cultural traditions of your staff," and specific kitchen logistics. The book advises students to "not dump mop buckets into storm drains" and to "be organized with your purchasing. The farmer has little time to run to town if you are out of mint."
In addition to completing the dedicated sustainability classes, Seattle Culinary Academy students are also expected to work on the school's one-acre farm and attend to environmental issues in every class. For example, the syllabi for wine courses includes discussion of vineyard management and pesticides, Chauncey says. Sharing those useable "nuggets" with culinary instructors was at the heart of the symposium, she added.