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National Restaurant Association - Culinary education gets a greener face

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Culinary education gets a greener face

The Riverhead, N.Y., campus of Suffolk County Community College is a textbook example of how culinary education is adapting to the locavore movement.

A short drive from a major farming area and one of the world’s great incubators of restaurant trends, the school provides a preview of the sustainability IQ restaurateurs can expect from tomorrow’s kitchen talent. The college kitchens recycle fryer oil, feature sinks with low-flow faucets and participate in school-wide conservation initiatives.

Recently, the culinary program began striving to boost students’ appreciation of what’s growing in their backyard. Opened three years ago, the facility is nestled between the North and South Forks of Long Island, the fish-shaped island east of Manhattan. The North Fork is known for vineyards, potatoes, strawberries, peaches and many vegetable-crisper staples. It also hosts commercial fishing, as does the ocean-abutting South Fork.

An abundance of food is cultivated or caught literally a few miles away from the school for the restaurants of New York City, about 70 miles away.

“Lately we’ve arranged trips out to the farms to see where the food is produced,” says Richard Freilich, director of the school’s culinary arts program. “That’s the sort of thing we’re going to do more of -- not only looking at how to cook something or how it tastes, but how it’s produced.”

The students do more than peruse rows of cabbages or strawberries. For instance, when they go to a winery, they look at how grapes are crushed, how stems and seeds are removed and how wine is blended, Freinlich says. “We want them to know everything about what happens to the food before it gets to us.”

It’s not just about the food, though. “Because we’re on Long Island, you’re also talking about jobs and a big contribution to the economy,” he says. They need to understand that “sustainable” is also an economic benchmark, he says.

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