KSU culinary degree gets back to roots
by Rachel Miller
May 05, 2013 12:28 AM | 4180 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Kennesaw State University Culinary and Hospitality Services Campus Executive Chef Billy Skiber harvests some adult lettuce for a dish he is preparing for students in the dining facility at The Commons on campus. The staff harvests more than 700 heads every three weeks after growing them hydroponically.
Kennesaw State University Culinary and Hospitality Services Campus Executive Chef Billy Skiber harvests some adult lettuce for a dish he is preparing for students in the dining facility at The Commons on campus. The staff harvests more than 700 heads every three weeks after growing them hydroponically.
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KENNESAW — The phrase “food for thought” could not be any more true for the high level of care the Kennesaw State University Culinary and Hospitality Services staff puts into each ounce of the food served, and grown, on campus.

Beginning in August, Kennesaw State University will be the first U.S. college to offer a bachelor’s of science degree in Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality, which will include a course on plant-based cuisine.

Christian Hardigree, director of the Institute for Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality, said the immediate goal is to enroll freshman, who must complete orientation this month to register May 30.

Hardigree expects to enroll 150 students in the program’s first year and upwards of 400 students by the fourth year.

Thirty-three current KSU students from different departments have already signed up for classes as electives or general education requirements, with a large interest in the World Cuisines and Culture course.

The Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality program is housed in the WellStar College of Health and Human Services, which opened in September 2012.

In combination with seven classes at KSU’s Coles College of Business, the degree will teach the economic benefits of the farm-to-table trend, including energy savings and lowering food waste.

The program will take food-industry sustainability ideas into business education, such as purchasing only what is needed and eliminating packaging that ends up in landfills.

Starting with a professional development class, Haridgree hopes to expand the curriculum to include event and festival practices, which are large markets in hospitality services.

KSU culinary students will also complete 200 hours of food-based volunteering with food pantries and other nonprofits. Hardigree said it is important to build philanthropic habits.

Haridgree said she plans to start an exchange component, specifically with Yang Zhou University, which is the oldest cooking school in China. Hardigree feels this type of exposure is needed not only to understand the origin of a dish, but for a culinary student to develop their taste profile.

Hardigree said the Institute for Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality was created because of the many career options in the growing field, such as private club, resort and hotel management.

KSU’s newest program gives its students an advantage with a unique degree that becomes more in demand each year, said Hardigree, who added that a culinary school must prepare a graduate to apply the course work.

The degree requires 600 hours of hands-on experience with an internship at a KSU facility, where the skill set can be controlled and benefited from a state-of-the-art facility on campus.

The Commons was built four years ago and is the nation’s largest LEED-Gold certified collegiate dining facility.

Small-batch cooking

Gary Coltek, director of Culinary and Hospitality Services, played a big role in designing The Commons. He said the key is small-batch cooking, where the staff makes much of the food by order, not in large quantities to constantly heat in vats.

Coltek’s goal is to buy as much local produce as possible, starting in Kennesaw and spanning out to sources in northern Georgia and Alabama for beef, pork and lamb.

Because the menues are seasonal, a board at the entrance posts what is fresh that day, as well as where it was farmed.

“You won’t see a chicken nugget,” said Coltek, who added there is no MSG or processed meat served at The Commons, just grass-fed, hormone-free choices.

Coltek said The Commons serves 5,000 to 8,000 students every day during the regular school year.

Based on the summer 2013 options, a student all-you-can-eat meal is a little more than $8, or there are block payments for unlimited entries starting at $650.

Walking through The Commons, the students smell every ingredient as the aromas pour from each station, which all offer vegetarian dishes. Meat options, which can be requested rare and seared, are cooked fresh in front of the customers’ eyes.

The dining hall receives shipments of 200-pound red snapper, from which portions are served right off of the whole fish, and Coltek said one area roasted an entire pig to offer authentic world cuisine as a special treat.

Cases of baked goods are made from scratch, and informational signs educate the students about techniques, such as a stone grinder that can make 140 pounds of gristmill an hour.

Coltek said the KSU students have moved away from the hamburger and fry station. Common college student favorites, like the 350 to 500 pizzas served a day, use heirloom ingredients.

After four years of exposure and knowledge, “now the seniors know how to eat,” Coltek said with pride.

Lots of options

Sophomore Sydney Montgomery, a resident assistant, said she loves the fresh options and eco-friendly food. Since enrolling, she has tried braised lamb, sushi, grilled veggies and paninis.

“There is always something different that is healthy,” said Montgomery, who admitted that KSU students are spoiled and complained it is harder to find these options off campus.

Hardigree said the high quality is important when recruiting student athletes. She added that people in the community can dine at The Commons, and many older students bring their children.

In December, hydroponic gardens and a germination tank were installed next to groups of tables in The Commons. This allows food service staff to pick vegetables to be prepped and placed on the salad bar 20 feet away.

The metal-lined flaps of the tents can be pulled apart to expose the 700 heads of lettuce produced every two weeks under the bright grow lights. The units have a reclamation system that uses rain water from the roof.

Coltek also overseas the agricultural infrastructure that supplies as much of the food products consumed on campus as possible.

Farm to campus and back to farm

Around the back of The Commons is a 2,500-square-foot herb garden, which includes white oak logs injected with shitake mushroom spores that the chefs collect for their recipes.

The facility composts 60,000 pounds of food waste per month and uses wet waste to irrigate the 65 acres of farmland KSU owns, including 42 honeybee hives, throughout three different counties.

“It is farm to campus and back to farm,” said Coltek, who plans to start an olive orchard next year and begin pressing oil as quickly as possible.

Hardigree said the KSU agricultural facilities were ready before the Culinary Sustainability program was designed. She said she is anxious for the influx of students to help with current projects smoking meat, as well as making pickles and hot sauce.

“The academic program really ballooned out of the incredible work Gary has done,” said Hardigree, who added that these tested and proven concepts will be taught at the institute. “It is truly revolutionary for food service.”

Coltek, Haridgree and their team will travel to Chicago on May 17 to 22 for the National Restaurant Association Show. KSU is one of three finalists for the Operator Innovations Awards for Sustainability.

Haridgree said KSU is the epicenter on researching what are the best practices for what to plant, when to plant and how to address problems.

Hardigree said the university’s programs are not perfect. For instance, they tried roasting coffee beans and the intense process caused the project to fail.

“So we changed the model,” Hardigree said.

In the future, Haridgree sees the Institute for Culinary Sustainability being the authority on how to incorporate sustainability and healthy choices in all aspects of the food industry, including meals provided at hospitals, retirement homes and schools.

“Food is the great equalizer,” Hardigree said about the basic need for food and the desire to enjoy it. “It fuels us, in every sense.”
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