If you walked into the kitchen of the Connolly Dining Hall a week or so ago, you might have seen the staff sorting containers of plump little red and yellow cherry tomatoes harvested the day before. And if you had lunch that day, you could have enjoyed a moist and flavorful baked potato, and some buttery golden beets, that were also farm fresh, unearthed the previous day at Verrill Farm in Concord.
Dining Hall Chef Manager David Ayotte (left), Sous Chef Jim Shuel (right), and Fenn veteran and Deli Bar Prep Person Cesar Acosta (all pictured having a little fun after a recent Tuesday lunch), are making efforts to provide seasonal fruits, vegetables, and herbs that are locally sourced from farms only minutes away. Carrying out the mission of Flik Dining Services, they prefer. for example, to use fresh, not frozen, local beef that is farm-raised with no hormones or antibiotics. One source is Northeast Family Farms, which purchases foods from small- to medium-sized family farms in the Northeast, including farms in Massachusetts and Vermont, to help preserve the rural landscape, enhance economic development, and enable current and future generations to stay on the farm, caring for the land. A recent hit with the boys (and the adults) was fresh cooked turkey tenderloin tips in barbeque sauce. Monterey Bay Seafood Watch guidelines are followed with the goal of serving sustainable fish, and eggs are certified cage free.
"It is not too difficult or expensive to offer fresh, locally sourced food," says Chef Ayotte, explaining that he shops for what’s in season and available."It’s actually more economical than using processed or precooked food," he notes. All of this pleases Cameren Cousins, Director of Sustainability at Fenn. "What they are doing is creating a simpler supply chain and better economic benefits for both ends."
"We’ve been working for a while now to take a closer look at the food miles of the products we bring to Fenn," Cameren says. "It takes less energy (in the form of transportation fuels and processing steps) and less packaging to source whole food from within our area. It makes so much sense to tap into local resources to keep our costs down and our footprint smaller. And it makes sense for Fenn philosophically to support its community by fostering business partnerships with local producers."
Flik works closely with schools on ways to serve a balanced menu based on fresh ingredients. "Our goal is fresh, local, and healthy," says Chef Ayotte. Other locally sourced produce this fall includes peppers and kale. As the seasons change, so will featured vegetables and fruits. Last month fresh blueberries and strawberries were among the offerings. Meals reflect a balance of starch and protein, and artificial colors and flavorings are avoided. The team makes its own hummus and always offers a grain salad such as quinoa or tabbouli.
The staff writes all of the menus in-house based on preferences, age differences, and allergies. Whenever possible, food is prepared from scratch; the sliced turkey you find in the salad bar was on the bird just hours earlier, roasted on site. Processed or prepared foods are avoided in favor of "from scratch" items such as cooking sauces. "We try to change it up with the seasons," says Chef Ayotte, "and get the boys to try different things."
The kitchen staff is working with Fenn to reduce, reuse, and recycle. The goal is to prevent waste in part by controlling portions;"The boys can always come back for more," says Sous Chef Shuel. The food service, new to Fenn this fall, "has been very supportive of our composting efforts," Cameren says, noting that "we’ve been tracking waste in the dining hall for over a year now, both in terms of food prepared in the kitchen and food not eaten on the plates."
Cameren notes that October 24 is National Food Day, an event that promotes whole, healthy, and local food. An initiative called Concord Roots is set for that week to encourage residents and businesses to purchase and prepare vegetables from area farms. Fenn will be participating by sending a group of boys to Verrill Farm to harvest and gather vegetables for us to enjoy on National Food Day.