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Culinary schools going green

 
In a bid to respond to increasing concern for the environment, students in some North American culinary schools are getting their hands dirty at local farms or learning to work in "green" kitchens.

Culinary School of the Rockies in Boulder, Colo., is the first private cooking school in the U.S. to organize a culinary "externship" dedicated to the sustainable food movement.

Called "Farm to Table," the experience gives aspiring chefs the chance to gain both culinary know-how and a deep understanding of ways to source and use local ingredients.

"Farm to table is not a passing trend in the culinary world. It is a lasting cultural shift," says Joan Brett, director and founder of the school. "We want our students to respect and understand the intricacies and challenges of sourcing and serving local seasonal food."

Michael Olson, program co-ordinator and professor at the Niagara Culinary Institute at Niagara College in Welland, Ont., says a revamped curriculum has farmers, producers and local chefs invited to address students.

"But we don't have a particular program that is geared to sustainability, as yet."

The closest that the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts in Vancouver comes to such a program is the fact the kitchens have "gone green," says its executive chef Julian Bond.

"We don't actually make sustainability a course. We have it as part of our lifestyle," he says. "For example, we use green chemicals, chalk boards instead of white boards because the latter are very toxic."

Back at the Culinary School of the Rockies, Brett explains how the students spend three weeks on local farms where "they get hands-on experience learning where their food comes from and how it is grown."

"Our philosophy is to find the finest ingredients and it turns out the finest ingredients are in our own backyard," she says.

Olson, whose wife chef Anna Olson, host of "Sugar" on Food Network Canada, attended the Boulder school for her training, says that students worked with a lot of local restaurants.

"What they are probably doing now is placing students in venues that source local products."

Bond says that more and more West Coast restaurants are moving to become green and sustainable, using as much locally grown fruits and vegetables and other ingredients.

This means that graduates of culinary schools may soon be working in these establishments and will be expected to have knowledge of what it means to buy and cook local.

"Our school just applied for a permit from the city of Vancouver to install a community garden," he says. "We are very lucky that the school is located right next to the Granville Island Market."

Bond uses the farmers market to teach students what is organic and local and what is not.

"We take field trips to farms, we go to a co-op of organic growers and we encourage our students to purchase local and to buy at the farm gate as much as possible."

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